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Troubled Blood: A Cormoran Strike / : (by Robert Galbraith, 2020) -

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Troubled Blood: A Cormoran Strike /  :   (by Robert Galbraith, 2020) -

Troubled Blood: A Cormoran Strike / : (by Robert Galbraith, 2020) -

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Troubled Blood: A Cormoran Strike / : (by Robert Galbraith, 2020) -
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2020
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Robert Galbraith
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Robert Glenister
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upper-intermediate
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31:50:40
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64 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

Troubled Blood: A Cormoran Strike / : :

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: Troubled Blood: A Cormoran Strike

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There they her sought, and euery where inquired, Where they might tydings get of her estate; Yet found they none. But by what haplesse fate, Or hard misfortune she was thence conuayd, And stolne away from her beloued mate, Were long to tell Edmund Spenser The Faerie Queene For, if it were not so, there would be something disappearing into nothing, which is mathematically absurd. Aleister Crowley The Book of Thoth PART ONE Then came the iolly Sommer Edmund Spenser The Faerie Queene 1 And such was he, of whom I haue to tell, The champion of true Iustice, Artegall Edmund Spenser The Faerie Queene Youre a Cornishman, born and bred, said Dave Polworth irritably. Strike isnt even your proper name. By rights, youre a Nancarrow. Youre not going to sit here and say youd call yourself English? The Victory Inn was so crowded on this warm August evening that drinkers had spilled outside onto the broad stone steps which led down to the bay. Polworth and Strike were sitting at a table in the corner, having a few pints to celebrate Polworths thirty-ninth birthday. Cornish nationalism had been under discussion for twenty minutes, and to Strike it felt much longer. Would I call myself English? he mused aloud. No, Id probably say British. Fuck off, said Polworth, his quick temper rising. You wouldnt. Youre just trying to wind me up. The two friends were physical opposites. Polworth was short and spare as a jockey, weathered and prematurely lined, his sunburned scalp visible through his thinning hair. His T-shirt was crumpled, as though he had pulled it off the floor or out of a washing basket, and his jeans were ripped. On his left forearm was tattooed the black and white cross of St. Piran; on his right hand was a deep scar, souvenir of a close encounter with a shark. His friend Strike resembled an out-of-condition boxer, which in fact he was; a large man, well over six feet tall, with a slightly crooked nose, his dense dark hair curly. He bore no tattoos and, in spite of the perpetual shadow of the heavy beard, carried about him that well-pressed and fundamentally clean-cut air that suggested ex-police or ex-military. You were born here, Polworth persisted. So youre Cornish. Trouble is, by that standard, youre a Brummie. Fuck off! yelped Polworth again, genuinely stung. Ive been here since I was two months old and my mums a Trevelyan. Its identitywhat you feel here, and Polworth thumped his chest over his heart. My mums family goes back centuries in Cornwall Yeah, well, blood and soils never been my Did you hear about the last survey they done? said Polworth, talking over Strike. Whats your ethnic origin? they asked, and half halfticked Cornish instead of English. Massive increase. Great, said Strike. What next? Boxes for Dumnones and Romans? Keep using that patronizing fucking tone, said Polworth, and see where it gets you. Youve been in London too fucking long, boy Theres nothing wrong with being proud of where you came from. Nothing wrong with communities wanting some power back from Westminster. The Scots are gonna lead the way, next year. You watch. When they get independence, thatll be the trigger. Celtic peoples right across the country are going to make their move. Want another one? he added, gesturing toward Strikes empty pint glass. Strike had come out to the pub craving a respite from tension and worry, not to be harangued about Cornish politics. Polworths allegiance to Mebyon Kernow, the nationalist party hed joined at sixteen, appeared to have gained a greater hold over him in the year or so since they had last seen each other. Dave usually made Strike laugh like almost nobody else, but he brooked no jokes upon Cornish independence, a subject that for Strike had all the appeal of soft furnishings or train-spotting. For a second Strike considered saying that he needed to get back to his aunts house, but the prospect of that was almost more depressing than his old friends invective against supermarkets that resisted putting the cross of St. Piran on goods of Cornish origin. Great, thanks, he said, passing his empty glass to Dave, who headed up to the bar, nodding left and right to his many acquaintances. Left alone at the table, Strikes eyes roamed absently over the pub hed always considered his local. It had changed over the years, but was still recognizably the place in which he and his Cornish mates had met in their late teens. He had an odd double impression of being exactly where he belonged, and where hed never belonged, of intense familiarity and of separateness. As his gaze moved aimlessly from timber floor to nautical prints, Strike found himself looking directly into the large, anxious eyes of a woman standing at the bar with a friend. She had a long, pale face and her dark, shoulder-length hair was streaked with gray. He didnt recognize her, but hed been aware for the past hour that certain locals were craning their necks to look at him, or else trying to catch his eye. Looking away, Strike took out his mobile and pretended to be texting. Acquaintances had a ready excuse for conversation, if he showed the slightest sign of encouraging them, because everyone in St. Mawes seemed to know that his aunt Joan had received a diagnosis of advanced ovarian cancer ten days previously, and that he, his half-sister, Lucy, and Lucys three sons had hastened at once to Joan and Teds house to offer what support they could. For a week now hed been fielding inquiries, accepting sympathy and politely declining offers of help every time he ventured out of the house. He was tired of finding fresh ways of saying Yes, it looks terminal and yes, its shit for all of us. Polworth pushed his way back to the table, carrying two fresh pints. There you go, Diddy, he said, resuming his bar stool. The old nickname hadnt been bestowed, as most people assumed, in ironic reference to Strikes size, but derived from didicoy, the Cornish word for gypsy. The sound of it softened Strike, reminding him why his friendship with Polworth was the most enduring of his life. Thirty-five years previously, Strike had entered St. Mawes Primary School a term late, unusually large for his age and with an accent that was glaringly different from the local burr. Although hed been born in Cornwall, his mother had spirited him away as soon as shed recovered from the birth, fleeing into the night, baby in her arms, back to the London life she loved, flitting from flat to squat to party. Four years after Strikes birth, shed returned to St. Mawes with her son and with her newborn, Lucy, only to take off again in the early hours of the morning, leaving Strike and his half-sister behind. Precisely what Leda had said in the note she left on the kitchen table, Strike had never known. Doubtless shed been having a spell of difficulty with a landlord or a boyfriend, or perhaps there was a music festival she particularly wanted to attend: it became difficult to live exactly as she pleased with two children in tow. Whatever the reason for her lengthening absence, Ledas sister-in-law, Joan, who was as conventional and orderly as Leda was flighty and chaotic, had bought Strike a uniform and enrolled him in the local school. The other four-and-a-half-year-olds had gawped when he was introduced to the class. A few of them giggled when the teacher said his first name, Cormoran. He was worried by this school business, because he was sure that his mum had said she was going to home school him. Hed tried to tell Uncle Ted that he didnt think his mum would want him to go, but Ted, normally so understanding, had said firmly that he had to, so there he was, alone among strangers with funny accents. Strike, whod never been a great crier, had sat down at the old roll-top desk with a lump like an apple in his throat. Why Dave Polworth, pocket don of the class, had decided to befriend the new boy had never been satisfactorily explained, even to Strike. It couldnt have been out of fear of Strikes size, because Daves two best friends were hefty fishermens sons, and Dave was in any case notorious as a fighter whose viciousness was inversely proportional to his height. By the end of that first day Polworth had become both friend and champion, making it his business to impress upon their classmates all the reasons that Strike was worthy of their respect: he was a Cornishman born, a nephew to Ted Nancarrow of the local lifeguard, he didnt know where his mum was and it wasnt his fault if he spoke funny. Ill as Strikes aunt was, much as she had enjoyed having her nephew to stay for a whole week and even though hed be leaving the following morning, Joan had virtually pushed him out of the house to celebrate Little Daves birthday that evening. She placed immense value on old ties and delighted in the fact that Strike and Dave Polworth were still mates, all these years later. Joan counted the fact of their friendship as proof that shed been right to send him to school over his feckless mothers wishes and proof that Cornwall was Strikes true home, no matter how widely he might have wandered since, and even though he was currently London-based. Polworth took a long pull on his fourth pint and said, with a sharp glance over his shoulder at the dark woman and her blonde friend, who were still watching Strike, Effing emmets. And where would your garden be, asked Strike, without tourists? Be ansom, said Polworth promptly. We get a ton of local visitors, plenty of repeat business. Polworth had recently resigned from a managerial position in an engineering firm in Bristol to work as head gardener in a large public garden a short distance along the coast. A qualified diver, an accomplished surfer, a competitor in Ironman competitions, Polworth had been relentlessly physical and restless since childhood, and time and office work hadnt tamed him. No regrets, then? Strike asked. Fuck, no, said Polworth fervently. Needed to get my hands dirty again. Need to get back outside. Forty next year. Now or never. Polworth had applied for the new job without telling his wife what he was doing. Having been offered the position, hed quit his job and gone home to announce the fait accompli to his family. Penny come round, has she? Strike asked. Still tells me once a week she wants a divorce, Polworth answered indifferently. But it was better to present her with the fact, than argue the toss for five years. Its all worked out great. Kids love the new school, Pennys company let her transfer to the office in the Big City, by which Polworth meant Truro, not London. Shes happy. Just doesnt want to admit it. Strike privately doubted the truth of this statement. A disregard for inconvenient facts tended to march hand in hand with Polworths love of risk and romantic causes. However, Strike had problems enough of his own without worrying about Polworths, so he raised his fresh pint and said, hoping to keep Polworths mind off politics: Well, many happy returns, mate. Cheers, said Polworth, toasting him back. What dyou reckon to Arsenals chances, then? Gonna qualify? Strike shrugged, because he feared that discussing the likelihood of his London football club securing a place in the Champions League would lead back to a lack of Cornish loyalties. Hows your love life? Polworth asked, trying a different tack. Non-existent, said Strike. Polworth grinned. Joanie reckons youre gonna end up with your business partner. That Robin girl. Is that right? said Strike. Told me all about it when I was round there, weekend before last. While I was fixing their Sky Box. They didnt tell me youd done that, said Strike, again tipping his pint toward Polworth. That was good of you, mate, cheers. If hed hoped to deflect his friend, he was unsuccessful. Both of em. Her and Ted, said Polworth, both of em reckon its Robin. And when Strike said nothing, Polworth pressed him, Nothing going on, then? No, said Strike. How come? asked Polworth, frowning again. As with Cornish independence, Strike was refusing to embrace an obvious and desirable objective. Shes a looker. Seen her in the paper. Maybe not on a par with Milady Berserko, Polworth acknowledged. It was the nickname he had long ago bestowed on Strikes ex-fianc?e. But on the other hand, shes not a fucking nutcase, is she, Diddy? Strike laughed. Lucy likes her, said Polworth. Says youd be perfect together. When were you talking to Lucy about my love life? asked Strike, with a touch less complaisance. Month or so ago, said Polworth. She brought her boys down for the weekend and we had them all over for a barbecue. Strike drank and said nothing. You get on great, she says, said Polworth, watching him. Yeah, we do, said Strike. Polworth waited, eyebrows raised and looking expectant. Itd fuck everything up, said Strike. Im not risking the agency. Right, said Polworth. Tempted, though? There was a short pause. Strike carefully kept his gaze averted from the dark woman and her companion, who he was sure were discussing him. There mightve been moments, he admitted, when it crossed my mind. But shes going through a nasty divorce, we spend half our lives together as it is and I like having her as a business partner. Given their longstanding friendship, the fact that theyd already clashed over politics and that it was Polworths birthday, he was trying not to let any hint of resentment at this line of questioning show. Every married person he knew seemed desperate to chivvy others into matrimony, no matter how poor an advertisement they themselves were for the institution. The Polworths, for instance, seemed to exist in a permanent state of mutual animosity. Strike had more often heard Penny refer to her husband as that twat than by his name, and many was the night when Polworth had regaled his friends in happy detail of the ways in which hed managed to pursue his own ambitions and interests at the expense of, or over the protests of, his wife. Both seemed happiest and most relaxed in the company of their own sex, and on those rare occasions when Strike had enjoyed hospitality at their home, the gatherings always seemed to follow a pattern of natural segregation, the women congregating in one area of the home, the men in another. And what happens when Robin wants kids? asked Polworth. Dont think shes does, said Strike. She likes the job. They all say that, said Polworth dismissively. What age is she now? Ten years younger than us. Shell want kids, said Polworth confidently. They all do. And it happens quicker for women. Theyre up against the clock. Well, she wont be getting kids with me. I dont want them. Anyway, the older I get, the less I think Im the marrying kind. Thought that myself, mate, said Polworth. But then I realized Id got it all wrong. Told you how it happened, didnt I? How I ended up proposing to Penny? Dont think so, said Strike. I never told you about the whole Tolstoy thing? asked Polworth, surprised at this omission. Strike, whod been about to drink, lowered his glass in amazement. Since primary school, Polworth, who had a razor-sharp intelligence but despised any form of learning he couldnt put to immediate, practical use, had shunned all printed material except technical manuals. Misinterpreting Strikes expression, Polworth said, Tolstoy. Hes a writer. Yeah, said Strike. Thanks. How does Tolstoy? Telling you, arent I? Id split up with Penny the second time. Shed been banging on about getting engaged, and I wasnt feeling it. So Im in this bar, telling my mate Chris about how Im sick of her telling me she wants a ringyou remember Chris? Big guy with a lisp. You met him at Rozwyns christening. Anyway, theres this pissed older guy at the bar on his own, bit of a ponce in his corduroy jacket, wavy hair, and hes pissing me off, to be honest, because I can tell hes listening, and I ask him what the fuck hes looking at and he looks me straight in the eye, said Polworth, and he says: You can only carry a weight and use your hands, if you strap the weight to your back. Marry, and you get the use of your hands back. Dont marry, and youll never have your hands free for anything else. Look at Mazankov, at Krupov. Theyve ruined their careers for the sake of women. I thought Mazankov and Krupov were mates of his. Asked him what the fuck he was telling me for. Then he says hes quoting this writer, Tolstoy. And we got talking and I tell you this, Diddy, it was a life-changing moment. The lightbulb went on, said Polworth, pointing at the air over his balding head. He made me see it clearly. The male predicament, mate. There I am, trying to get my hole on a Thursday night, heading home alone again, poorer, bored shitless; I thought of the money Ive spent chasing gash, and the hassle, and whether I want to be watching porn alone at forty, and I thought, this is the whole point. What marriage is for. Am I going to do better than Penny? Am I enjoying talking shit to women in bars? Penny and me get on all right. I could do a hell of a lot worse. Shes not bad-looking. Id have my hole already at home, waiting for me, wouldnt I? Pity she cant hear this, said Strike. Shed fall in love with you all over again. I shook that poncey blokes hand, said Polworth, ignoring Strikes sarcasm. Made him write me down the name of the book and all. Went straight out that bar, got a taxi to Pennys flat, banged on the door, woke her up. She was fucking livid. Thought Id come round because I was pissed, couldnt get anything better and wanted a shag. I said, No, you dozy cow, Im here because I wanna marry you. And Ill tell you the name of the book, said Polworth. Anna Karenina. He drained his pint. Its shit. Strike laughed. Polworth belched loudly, then checked his watch. He was a man who knew a good exit line and had no more time for prolonged leave-taking than for Russian literature. Gonna get going, Diddy, he said, getting to his feet. If Im back before half eleven, Im on for a birthday blowiewhich is the whole point Im making, mate. Whole point. Grinning, Strike accepted Polworths handshake. Polworth told Strike to convey his love to Joan and to call him next time he was down, then squeezed his way out of the pub, and disappeared from view. 2 Heart, that is inly hurt, is greatly easd With hope of thing, that may allay his Smart Edmund Spenser The Faerie Queene Still grinning at Polworths story, Strike now realized that the dark woman at the bar was showing signs of wanting to approach him. Her spectacled blonde companion appeared to be advising against it. Strike finished his pint, gathered up his wallet, checked his cigarettes were still in his pocket and, with the assistance of the wall beside him, stood up, making sure his balance was everything it should be before trying to walk. His prosthetic leg was occasionally uncooperative after four pints. Having assured himself that he could balance perfectly well, he set off toward the exit, giving unsmiling nods to those few locals whom he could not ignore without causing offense, and reached the warm darkness outside without being importuned. The wide, uneven stone steps that led down toward the bay were still crowded with drinkers and smokers. Strike wove his way between them, pulling out his cigarettes as he went. It was a balmy August night and tourists were still strolling around the picturesque seafront. Strike was facing a fifteen-minute walk, part of it up a steep slope, back to his aunt and uncles house. On a whim he turned right, crossed the street and headed for the high stone wall separating the car park and ferry point from the sea. Leaning against it, he lit a cigarette and stared out over the smoke gray and silver ocean, becoming just one more tourist in the darkness, free to smoke quietly without having to answer questions about cancer, deliberately postponing the moment when hed have to return to the uncomfortable sofa that had been his bed for the past six nights. On arrival, Strike had been told that he, the childless single man and ex-soldier, wouldnt mind sleeping in the sitting room because youll sleep anywhere. Shed been determined to shut down the possibility, mooted by Strike on the phone, that he might check into a bed and breakfast rather than stretch the house to capacity. Strikes visits were rare, especially in conjunction with his sister and nephews, and Joan wanted to enjoy his presence to the full, wanted to feel that she was, once again, the provider and nurturer, currently weakened by her first round of chemotherapy though she might be. So the tall and heavy Strike, whod have been far happier on a camp bed, had lain down uncomplainingly every night on the slippery, unyielding mass of satin-covered horsehair, to be woken each morning by his young nephews, who routinely forgot that they had been asked to wait until eight oclock before barging into the sitting room. At least Jack had the decency to whisper apologies every time he realized that hed woken his uncle. The eldest, Luke, clattered and shouted his way down the narrow stairs every morning and merely sniggered as he dashed past Strike on his way to the kitchen. Luke had broken Strikes brand-new headphones, which the detective had felt obliged to pretend didnt matter in the slightest. His eldest nephew had also thought it amusing to run off into the garden with Strikes prosthetic leg one morning, and to stand waving it at his uncle through the window. When Luke finally brought it back, Strike, whose bladder had been very full and who was incapable of hopping up the steep stairs to the only toilet, had delivered Luke a quiet telling-off that had left the boy unusually subdued for most of the morning. Meanwhile, Joan told Strike every morning, you slept well, without a hint of inquiry. Joan had a lifelong habit of subtly pressurizing the family into telling her what she wanted to hear. In the days when Strike was sleeping in his office and facing imminent insolvency (facts that he had admittedly not shared with his aunt and uncle), Joan had told him happily youre doing awfully well over the phone, and it had felt, as it always did, unnecessarily combative to challenge her optimistic declaration. After his lower leg had been blown off in Iraq, a tearful Joan had stood at his hospital bed as he tried to focus through a fog of morphine, and told him You feel comfortable, though. You arent in pain. He loved his aunt, whod raised him for significant chunks of his childhood, but extended periods in her company made him feel stifled and suffocated. Her insistence on the smooth passing of counterfeit social coin from hand to hand, while uncomfortable truths were ignored and denied, wore him out. Something gleamed in the watersleek silver and a pair of soot-black eyes: a seal was turning lazily just below Strike. He watched its revolutions in the water, wondering whether it could see him and, for reasons he couldnt have explained, his thoughts slid toward his partner in the detective agency. He was well aware that he hadnt told Polworth the whole truth about his relationship with Robin Ellacott, which, after all, was nobody elses business. The truth was that his feelings contained nuances and complications that he preferred not to examine. For instance, he had a tendency, when alone, bored or low-spirited, to want to hear her voice. He checked his watch. She was having a day off, but there was an outside chance shed still be awake and he had a decent pretext for texting: Saul Morris, their newest subcontractor, was owed his months expenses, and Strike had left no instructions for sorting this out. If he texted about Morris, there was a good chance that Robin would call him back to find out how Joan was. Excuse me? a woman said nervously, from behind him. Strike knew without turning that it was the dark woman from the pub. She had a Home Counties accent and her tone contained that precise mixture of apology and excitement that he usually encountered in those who wanted to talk about his detective triumphs. Yes? he said, turning to face the speaker. Her blonde friend had come with her: or perhaps, thought Strike, they were more than friends. An indefinable sense of closeness seemed to bind the two women, whom he judged to be around forty. They wore jeans and shirts and the blonde in particular had the slightly weather-beaten leanness that suggests weekends spent hill walking or cycling. She was what some would call a handsome woman, by which they meant that she was bare faced. High-cheekboned, bespectacled, her hair pulled back into a ponytail, she also looked stern. The dark woman was slighter in build. Her large gray eyes shone palely in her long face. She had an air of intensity, even of fanaticism, about her in the half-light, like a medieval martyr. Are you are you Cormoran Strike? she asked. Yes, he said, his tone uninviting. Oh, she breathed, with an agitated little hand gesture. This isthis is so strange. I know you probably dont want to beIm sorry to bother you, I know youre off duty, she gave a nervous laugh, butmy names Anna, by the wayI wondered, she took a deep breath, whether I could comewhether I could come and talk to you about my mother. Strike said nothing. She disappeared, Anna went on. Margot Bamboroughs her name. She was a GP. She finished work one evening, walked out of her practice and nobodys seen her since. Have you contacted the police? asked Strike. Anna gave an odd little laugh. Oh yesI mean, they knewthey investigated. But they never found anything. She disappeared, said Anna, in 1974. The dark water lapped the stone and Strike thought he could hear the seal clearing its damp nostrils. Three drunk youths went weaving past, on their way to the ferry point. Strike wondered whether they knew the last ferry had been and gone at six. I just, said the woman in a rush, you seelast weekI went to see a medium. Fuck, thought Strike. Hed occasionally bumped up against the purveyors of paranormal insights during his detective career and felt nothing but contempt for them: leeches, or so he saw them, of money from the pockets of the deluded and the desperate. A motorboat came chugging across the water, its engine grinding the nights stillness to pieces. Apparently this was the lift the three drunk boys were waiting for. They now began laughing and elbowing each other at the prospect of imminent seasickness. The medium told me Id get a leading, Anna pressed on. She told me, Youre going to find out what happened to your mother. Youll get a leading and you must follow it. The way will become clear very soon. So when I saw you just now in the pub Cormoran Strike, in the Victoryit just seemed such an incredible coincidence and I thoughtI had to speak to you. A soft breeze ruffled Annas dark, silver-streaked hair. The blonde said crisply, Come on, Anna, we should get going. She put an arm around the others shoulders. Strike saw a wedding ring shining there. Were sorry to have bothered you, she told Strike. With gentle pressure, the blonde attempted to turn Anna away. The latter sniffed and muttered, Sorry. I probably had too much wine. Hang on. Strike often resented his own incurable urge to know, his inability to leave an itch unscratched, especially when he was as tired and aggravated as he was tonight. But 1974 was the year of his own birth. Margot Bamborough had been missing as long as hed been alive. He couldnt help it: he wanted to know more. Are you on holiday here? Yes. It was the blonde who had spoken. Well, weve got a second home in Falmouth. Our permanent base is in London. Im heading back there tomorrow, said Strike (What the fuck are you doing? asked a voice in his head), but I could probably swing by and see you tomorrow morning in Falmouth, if youre free. Really? gasped Anna. He hadnt seen her eyes fill with tears, but he knew they must have done, because she now wiped them. Oh, thatd be great. Thank you. Thank you! Ill give you the address. The blonde showed no enthusiasm at the prospect of seeing Strike again. However, when Anna started fumbling through her handbag, she said, Its all right, Ive got a card, pulled a wallet out of her back pocket, and handed Strike a business card bearing the name Dr. Kim Sullivan, BPS Registered Psychologist, with an address in Falmouth printed below it. Great, said Strike, inserting it into his own wallet. Well, Ill see you both tomorrow morning, then. Ive actually got a work conference call in the morning, said Kim. Ill be free by twelve. Will that be too late for you? The implication was clear: youre not speaking to Anna without me present. No, thatll be fine, said Strike. Ill see you at twelve, then. Thank you so much! said Anna. Kim reached for Annas hand and the two women walked away. Strike watched them pass under a street light before turning back toward the sea. The motorboat carrying the young drinkers had now chugged away again. It already looked tiny, dwarfed by the wide bay, the roar of its engine gradually deadened into a distant buzz. Forgetting momentarily about texting Robin, Strike lit a second cigarette, took out his mobile and Googled Margot Bamborough. Two different photographs appeared. The first was a grainy head-and-shoulders shot of an attractive, even-featured face with wide-set eyes, her wavy, dark blonde hair center-parted. She was wearing a long-lapelled blouse over what appeared to be a knitted tank top. The second picture showed the same woman looking younger and wearing the famous black corset of a Playboy Bunny, accessorized with black ears, black stockings and white tail. She was holding a tray of what looked like cigarettes, and smiling at the camera. Another young woman, identically dressed, stood beaming behind her, slightly bucktoothed and curvier than her willowy friend. Strike scrolled down until he read a famous name in conjunction with Margots. young doctor and mother, Margaret Margot Bamborough, whose disappearance on 11 October 1974 shared certain features with Creeds abductions of Vera Kenny and Gail Wrightman. Bamborough, who worked at the St. Johns Medical Practice in Clerkenwell, had arranged to meet a female friend in the local Three Kings pub at six oclock. She never arrived. Several witnesses saw a small white van driving at speed in the area around the time that Bamborough would have been heading for her rendezvous. DI Bill Talbot, who led the investigation into Bamboroughs disappearance, was convinced from an early stage that the young doctor had fallen victim to the serial killer known to be at large in the south east area. However, no trace of Bamborough was discovered in the basement flat where Dennis Creed imprisoned, tortured and killed seven other women. Creeds trademark of beheading the corpses of his victims 3 But now of Britomart it here doth neede, The hard aduentures and strange haps to tell Edmund Spenser The Faerie Queene Had her day gone as planned, Robin Ellacott would have been tucked up in bed in her rented flat in Earls Court at this moment, fresh from a long bath, her laundry done, reading a new novel. Instead, she was sitting in her ancient Land Rover, chilly from sheer exhaustion despite the mild night, still wearing the clothes shed put on at four-thirty that morning, as she watched the lit window of a Pizza Express in Torquay. Her face in the wing mirror was pale, her blue eyes bloodshot, and the strawberry blonde hair currently hidden under a black beanie hat needed a wash. From time to time, Robin dipped her hand into a bag of almonds sitting on the passenger seat beside her. It was only too easy to fall into a diet of fast food and chocolate when you were running surveillance, to snack more often than needed out of sheer boredom. Robin was trying to eat healthily in spite of her unsociable hours, but the almonds had long since ceased to be appetizing, and she craved nothing more than a bit of the pizza she could see an overweight couple enjoying in the restaurant window. She could almost taste it, even though the air around her was tangy with sea salt and underlain by the perpetual fug of old Wellington boots and wet dog that imbued the Land Rovers ancient fabric seats. The object of her surveillance, whom she and Strike had nicknamed Tufty for his badly fitting toupee, was currently out of view. Hed disappeared into the pizzeria an hour and a half previously with three companions, one of whom, a teenager with his arm in a cast, was visible if Robin craned her head sideways into the space above the front passenger seat. This she did every five minutes or so, to check on the progress of the foursomes meal. The last time she had looked, ice cream was being delivered to the table. It couldnt, surely, be much longer. Robin was fighting a feeling of depression which she knew was at least partly down to utter exhaustion, to the stiffness all over her body from many hours in the driving seat, and to the loss of her long-awaited day off. With Strike unavoidably absent from the agency for an entire week, shed now worked a twenty-day stretch without breaks. Their best subcontractor, Sam Barclay, had been supposed to take over the Tufty job today in Scotland, but Tufty hadnt flown to Glasgow as expected. Instead, hed taken a surprise detour to Torquay, leaving Robin with no choice but to follow him. There were other reasons for her low spirits, of course, one of which she acknowledged to herself; the other, she felt angry with herself for dwelling on. The first, admissible, reason was her ongoing divorce, which was becoming more contentious by the week. Following Robins discovery of her estranged husbands affair, theyd had one last cold and bitter meeting, coincidentally in a Pizza Express near Matthews place of work, where theyd agreed to seek a no-fault divorce following a two-year separation. Robin was too honest not to admit that she, too, bore responsibility for the failure of their relationship. Matthew might have been unfaithful, but she knew that shed never fully committed to the marriage, that shed prioritized her job over Matthew on almost every occasion and that, by the end, she had been waiting for a reason to leave. The affair had been a shock, but a release, too. However, during the twelve months that had elapsed since her pizza with Matthew, Robin had come to realize that far from seeking a no-fault resolution, her ex-husband saw the end of the marriage as entirely Robins responsibility and was determined to make her pay, both emotionally and financially, for her offense. The joint bank account, which held the proceeds of the sale of their old house, had been frozen while the lawyers wrangled over how much Robin could reasonably expect when she had been earning so much less than Matthew, and hadit had been strongly hinted in the last lettermarried him purely with a view to obtaining a pecuniary advantage she could never have achieved alone. Every letter from Matthews lawyer caused Robin additional stress, rage and misery. She hadnt needed her own lawyer to point out that Matthew appeared to be trying to force her to spend money she didnt have on legal wrangling, to run down the clock and her resources until she walked away with as close to nothing as he could manage. Ive never known a childless divorce be so contentious, her lawyer had told her, words that brought no comfort. Matthew continued to occupy almost as much space in Robins head as when theyd been married. She thought she could read his thoughts across the miles and silence that separated them in their widely divergent new lives. Hed always been a bad loser. He had to emerge from this embarrassingly short marriage the winner, by walking away with all the money, and stigmatizing Robin as the sole reason for its failure. All of this was ample reason for her present mood, of course, but then there was the other reason, the one that was inadmissible, that Robin was annoyed with herself for fretting about. It had happened the previous day, at the office. Saul Morris, the agencys newest subcontractor, was owed his months expenses, so, after seeing Tufty safely back into the marital home in Windsor, Robin had driven back to Denmark Street to pay Saul. Morris had been working for the agency for six weeks. He was an ex-police officer, an undeniably handsome man, with black hair and bright blue eyes, though something about him set Robins teeth on edge. He had a habit of softening his voice when he spoke to her; arch asides and over-personal comments peppered their most mundane interactions, and no double entendre went unmarked if Morris was in the room. Robin rued the day when hed found out that both of them were currently going through divorces, because he seemed to think this gave him fertile new ground for assumed intimacy. Shed hoped to get back from Windsor before Pat Chauncey, the agencys new office manager, left, but it was ten past six by the time Robin climbed the stairs and found Morris waiting for her outside the locked door. Sorry, Robin said, traffic was awful. Shed paid Morris back in cash from the new safe, then told him briskly she needed to get home, but he clung on like gum stuck in her hair, telling her all about his ex-wifes latest late-night texts. Robin tried to unite politeness and coolness until the phone rang on her old desk. Shed ordinarily have let it go to voicemail, but so keen was she to curtail Morriss conversation that she said, Ive got to get this, sorry. Have a nice evening, and picked up the receiver. Strike Detective Agency, Robin speaking. Hi, Robin, said a slightly husky female voice. Is the boss there? Given that Robin had only spoken to Charlotte Campbell once, three years previously, it was perhaps surprising that shed known instantly who was on the line. Robin had analyzed these few words of Charlottes to a perhaps ludicrous degree since. Robin had detected an undertone of laughter, as though Charlotte found Robin amusing. The easy use of Robins first name and the description of Strike as the boss had also come in for their share of rumination. No, Im afraid not, Robin had said, reaching for a pen while her heart beat a little faster. Can I take a message? Could you ask him to call Charlotte Campbell? Ive got something he wants. He knows my number. Will do, said Robin. Thanks very much, Charlotte had said, still sounding amused. Bye, then. Robin had dutifully written down Charlotte Campbell called, has something for you and placed the message on Strikes desk. Charlotte was Strikes ex-fianc?e. Their engagement had been terminated three years previously, on the very day that Robin had come to work at the agency as a temp. Though Strike was far from communicative on the subject, Robin knew that theyd been together for sixteen years (on and off, as Strike tended to emphasize, because the relationship had faltered many times before its final termination), that Charlotte had become engaged to her present husband just two weeks after Strike had left her and that Charlotte was now the mother of twins. But this wasnt all Robin knew, because after leaving her husband, Robin had spent five weeks living in the spare room of Nick and Ilsa Herbert, who were two of Strikes best friends. Robin and Ilsa had struck up their own friendship during that time, and still met regularly for drinks and coffees. Ilsa made very little secret of the fact that she hoped and believed that Strike and Robin would one day, and preferably soon, realize that they were made for each other. Although Robin regularly asked Ilsa to desist from her broad hints, asserting that she and Strike were perfectly happy with a friendship and working relationship, Ilsa remained cheerfully unconvinced. Robin was very fond of Ilsa, but her pleas for her new friend to forget any idea of matchmaking between herself and Strike were genuine. She was mortified by the thought that Strike might think she herself was complicit in Ilsas regular attempts to engineer foursomes that increasingly had the appearance of double dates. Strike had declined the last two proposed outings of this type and, while the agencys current workload certainly made any kind of social life difficult, Robin had the uncomfortable feeling that he was well aware of Ilsas ulterior motive. Looking back on her own brief married life, Robin was sure shed never been guilty of treating single people as she now found herself treated by Ilsa: with a cheerful lack of concern for their sensibilities, and sometimes ham-fisted attempts to manage their love lives. One of the ways in which Ilsa attempted to draw Robin out on the subject of Strike was to tell her all about Charlotte, and here, Robin felt guilty, because she rarely shut the Charlotte conversations down, even though she never left one of them without feeling as though she had just gorged on junk food: uncomfortable, and wishing she could resist the craving for more. She knew, for instance, about the many me-or-the-army ultimatums, two of the suicide attempts (The one on Arran wasnt a proper one, said Ilsa scathingly. Pure manipulation) and about the ten days enforced stay in the psychiatric clinic. Shed heard stories that Ilsa gave titles like cheap thrillers: the Night of the Bread Knife, the Incident of the Black Lace Dress and the Blood-Stained Note. She knew that in Ilsas opinion, Charlotte was bad, not mad, and that the worst rows Ilsa and her husband Nick had ever had were on the subject of Charlotte, and shed have bloody loved knowing that, too, Ilsa had added. And now Charlotte was phoning the office, asking Strike to call her back, and Robin, sitting outside the Pizza Express, hungry and exhausted, was pondering the phone call yet again, much as a tongue probes a mouth ulcer. If she was phoning the office, Charlotte clearly wasnt aware that Strike was in Cornwall with his terminally ill aunt, which didnt suggest regular contact between them. On the other hand, Charlottes slightly amused tone had seemed to hint at an alliance between herself and Strike. Robins mobile, which was lying on the passenger seat beside the bag of almonds, buzzed. Glad of any distraction, she picked it up and saw a text message from Strike. Are you awake? Robin texted back: No As shed expected, the mobile rang immediately. Well, you shouldnt be, said Strike, without preamble. You must be knackered. Whats it been, three weeks straight on Tufty? Im still on him. What? said Strike, sounding displeased. Youre in Glasgow? Wheres Barclay? In Glasgow. He was ready in position, but Tufty didnt get on the plane. He drove down to Torquay instead. Hes having pizza right now. Im outside the restaurant. The hells he doing in Torquay, when the mistress is in Scotland? Visiting his original family, said Robin, wishing she could see Strikes face as she delivered the next bit of news. Hes a bigamist. Her announcement was greeted with total silence. I was outside the house in Windsor at six, said Robin, expecting to follow him to Stansted, see him safely onto the plane and let Barclay know he was on the way, but he didnt go to the airport. He rushed out of the house looking panicky, drove to a lock-up, took his case inside and came out with an entirely different set of luggage and minus his toupee. Then he drove all the way down here. Our client in Windsors about to find out shes not legally married, said Robin. Tuftys had this wife in Torquay for twenty years. Ive been talking to the neighbors. I pretended I was doing a survey. One of the women along the street was at the original wedding. Tufty travels a lot for business, she said, but hes a lovely man. Devoted to his sons. There are two boys, Robin continued, because Strikes stunned silence continued unabated, students, both in their late teens and both the absolute spit of him. One of them came off his motorbike yesterdayI got all this out of the neighborhes got his arm in a cast and looks quite bruised and cut up. Tufty mustve got news of the accident, so he came haring down here instead of going to Scotland. Tufty goes by the name of Edward Campion down here, not Johnturns out Johns his middle name, Ive been searching the online records. He and the first wife and sons live in a really nice villa, view of the sea, massive garden. Bloody hell, said Strike. So our pregnant friend in Glasgow is the least of Mrs.-Campion-in-Windsors worries, said Robin. Hes leading a triple life. Two wives and a mistress. And he looks like a balding baboon. Theres hope for all of us. Did you say hes having dinner right now? Pizza with the wife and kids. Im parked outside. I didnt manage to get pictures of him with the sons earlier, and I want to, because theyre a total giveaway. Mini-Tuftys, just like the two in Windsor. Where dyou think hes been pretending to have been? Oil rig? suggested Strike. Abroad? Middle East? Maybe thats why hes so keen on keeping his tan topped up. Robin sighed. The clients going to be shattered. Sos the mistress in Scotland, said Strike. That babys due any minute. His tastes amazingly consistent, said Robin. If you lined them up side by side, the Torquay wife, the Windsor wife and the mistress in Glasgow, theyd look like the same woman at twenty-year intervals. Where are you planning to sleep? Travelodge or a BandB, said Robin, yawning again, if I can find anything vacant at the height of the holiday season. Id drive straight back to London overnight, but Im exhausted. Ive been awake since four, and thats on top of a ten-hour day yesterday. No driving and no sleeping in the car, said Strike. Get a room. Hows Joan? asked Robin. We can handle the workload if you want to stay in Cornwall a bit longer. She wont sit still while were all there. Ted agrees she needs some quiet. Ill come back down in a couple of weeks. So, were you calling for an update on Tufty? Actually, I was calling about something that just happened. Ive just left the pub In a few succinct sentences, Strike described the encounter with Margot Bamboroughs daughter. Ive just looked her up, he said. Margot Bamborough, twenty-nine-year-old doctor, married, one-year-old daughter. Walked out of her GP practice in Clerkenwell at the end of a days work, said she was going to have a quick drink with a female friend before heading home. The pub was only five minutes walk away. The friend waited, but Margot never arrived and was never seen again. There was a pause. Robin, whose eyes were still fixed on the window of the pizza restaurant, said, And her daughter thinks youre going to find out what happened, nearly four decades later? She seemed to be putting a lot of store on the coincidence of spotting me in the boozer right after the medium told her shed get a leading. Hmm, said Robin. And what do you think the chances are of finding out what happened after this length of time? Slim to non-existent, admitted Strike. On the other hand, the truths out there. People dont just vaporize. Robin could hear a familiar note in his voice that indicated rumination on questions and possibilities. So youre meeting the daughter again tomorrow? Cant hurt, can it? said Strike. Robin didnt answer. I know what youre thinking, he said, with a trace of defensiveness. Emotionally overwrought clientmediumsituation ripe for exploitation. Im not suggesting youd exploit it Might as well hear her out, then, mightnt I? Unlike a lot of people, I wouldnt take her money for nothing. And once Id exhausted all avenues I know you, said Robin. The less you found out, the more interested youd get. Think Id have her wife to deal with unless I got results within a reasonable period. Theyre a gay couple, he elaborated. The wifes a psychol Cormoran, Ill call you back, said Robin, and without waiting for his answer, she cut the call and dropped the mobile back onto the passenger seat. Tufty had just ambled out of the restaurant, followed by his wife and sons. Smiling and talking, they turned their steps toward their car, which lay five behind where Robin sat in the Land Rover. Raising her camera, she took a burst of pictures as the family drew nearer. By the time they passed the Land Rover, the camera was lying in her lap and Robins head was bowed over her phone, pretending to be texting. In the rear-view mirror she watched as the Tufty family got into their Range Rover and departed for the villa beside the sea. Yawning yet again, Robin picked up her phone and called Strike back. Get everything you wanted? he asked. Yeah, said Robin, checking the photographs one-handedly with the phone to her ear, Ive got a couple of clear ones of him and the boys. God, hes got strong genes. All four kids have got his exact features. She put the camera back into her bag. You realize Im only a couple of hours away from St. Mawes? Nearer three, said Strike. If you like You dont want to drive all the way down here, then back to London. Youve just told me youre knackered. But Robin could tell that he liked the idea. Hed traveled down to Cornwall by train, taxi and ferry, because since he had lost a leg, long drives were neither easy nor particularly pleasurable. Id like to meet this Anna. Then I could drive you back. Well, if youre sure, thatd be great, said Strike, now sounding cheerful. If we take her on, we should work the case together. Thered be a massive amount to sift through, cold case like this, and it sounds like youve wrapped up Tufty tonight. Yep, sighed Robin. Its all over except for the ruining of half a dozen lives. You didnt ruin anyones life, said Strike bracingly. He did that. Whats better: all three women find out now, or when he dies, with all the effing mess thatll cause? I know, said Robin, yawning again. So, do you want me to come to the house in St. M His no was swift and firm. TheyAnna and her partnertheyre in Falmouth. Ill meet you there. Its a shorter drive for you. OK, said Robin. What time? Could you manage half eleven? Easily, said Robin. Ill text you a place to meet. Now go and get some sleep. As she turned the key in the ignition, Robin became conscious that her spirits had lifted considerably. As though a censorious jury were watching, among them Ilsa, Matthew and Charlotte Campbell, she consciously repressed her smile as she reversed out of the parking space. 4 Begotten by two fathers of one mother, Though of contrarie natures each to other Edmund Spenser The Faerie Queene Strike woke shortly before five the following morning. Light was already streaming through Joans thin curtains. Every night the horsehair sofa punished a different part of his body, and today he felt as though he had been punched in a kidney. He reached for his phone, noted the time, decided that he was too sore to fall back asleep, and raised himself to a sitting position. After a minute spent stretching and scratching his armpits while his eyes acclimatized to the odd shapes rising on all sides in the gloom of Joan and Teds sitting room, he Googled Margot Bamborough for a second time and, after a cursory examination of the picture of the smiling, wavy-haired doctor with widely spaced eyes, he scrolled through the results until he found a mention of her on a website devoted to serial killers. Here he found a long article punctuated with pictures of Dennis Creed at various ages, from pretty, curly-haired blond toddler all the way through to the police mugshot of a slender man with a weak, sensual mouth and large, square glasses. Strike then turned to an online bookstore, where he found an account of the serial killers life, published in 1985 and titled The Demon of Paradise Park. It had been written by a well-respected investigative journalist, now dead. Creeds nondescript face appeared in color on the cover, superimposed over ghostly black and white images of the seven women he was known to have tortured and killed. Margot Bamboroughs face wasnt among them. Strike ordered the second-hand book, which cost ?1, to be delivered to the office. He returned his phone to its charging lead, put on his prosthetic leg, picked up his cigarettes and lighter, navigated around a rickety nest of tables with a vase of dried flowers on it and, being careful not to nudge any of the ornamental plates off the wall, passed through the doorway and down three steep steps into the kitchen. The lino, which had been there since his childhood, was icy cold on his remaining foot. After making himself a mug of tea, he let himself out of the back door, still clad in nothing but boxers and a T-shirt, there to enjoy the cool of early morning, leaning up against the wall of the house, breathing in salt-laden air between puffs on his cigarette, and thinking about vanished mothers. Many times over the past ten days had his thoughts turned to Leda, a woman as different to Joan as the moon to the sun. Have you tried smoking yet, Cormy? shed once asked vaguely, out of a haze of blue smoke of her own creation. It isnt good for you, but God, I love it. People sometimes asked why social services never got involved with Leda Strikes family. The answer was that Leda had never stayed still long enough to present a stable target. Often her children remained in a school for mere weeks before a new enthusiasm seized her, and off they went, to a new city, a new squat, crashing on her friends floors or, occasionally, renting. The only people who knew what was going on, and who might have contacted social services, were Ted and Joan, the one fixed point in the childrens lives, but whether because Ted feared damaging the relationship between himself and his wayward sister, or because Joan worried that the children might not forgive her, theyd never done so. One of the most vivid memories of Strikes childhood was also one of the rare occasions he could remember crying, when Leda had made an unannounced return, six weeks into Strikes first term at St. Mawes Primary School. Amazed and angry that such definitive steps as enrolling him in school had been taken in her absence, shed ushered him and his sister directly onto the ferry, promising them all manner of treats up in London. Strike had bawled, trying to explain to her that he and Dave Polworth had been going to explore smugglers caves at the weekend, caves that might well have had no existence except in Daves imagination, but which were no less real to Strike for that. Youll see the caves, Leda had promised, plying him with sweets once they were on the train to London. Youll see whats-his-name soon, I promise. Dave, Strike had sobbed, hes called D-Dave. Dont think about it, Strike told himself, and he lit a second cigarette from the tip of his first. Stick, youll catch your death, out there in boxers! He looked around. His sister was standing in the doorway, wrapped in a woolen dressing gown and wearing sheepskin slippers. They were physically so unalike that people struggled to believe that they were related, let alone half-siblings. Lucy was small, blonde and pink-faced, and greatly resembled her father, a musician not quite as famous as Strikes, but far more interested in maintaining contact with his offspring. Morning, he said, but shed already disappeared, returning with his trousers, sweatshirt, shoes and socks. Luce, its not cold Youll get pneumonia. Put them on! Like Joan, Lucy had total confidence in her own judgment of her nearest and dearests best interests. With slightly better grace than he might have mustered had he not been about to return to London, Strike took his trousers and put them on, balancing awkwardly and risking a fall onto the gravel path. By the time hed added a shoe and sock to his real foot, Lucy had made him a fresh mug of tea along with her own. I couldnt sleep, either, she told him, handing over the mug as she sat down on the stone bench. It was the first time theyd been entirely alone all week. Lucy had been glued to Joans side, insisting on doing all the cooking and cleaning while Joan, who found it inconceivable that she should sit down while the house was full of guests, hovered and fussed. On the rare moments that Joan wasnt present, one or more of Lucys sons had generally been there, in Jacks case wanting to talk to Strike, the other two generally badgering Lucy for something. Its awful, isnt it? said Lucy, staring out over the lawn and Teds carefully tended flower-beds. Yeah, sighed Strike. But fingers crossed. The chemo But it wont cure her. Itll just prolongpro Lucy shook her head and dabbed at her eyes with a crumpled piece of toilet roll she pulled out of her dressing-gown pocket. Ive rung her twice a week for nigh on twenty years, Stick. This place is a second home for our boys. Shes the only mother Ive ever known. Strike knew he oughtnt to rise to the bait. Nevertheless, he said, Other than our actual mother, you mean. Leda wasnt my mother, said Lucy coldly. Strike had never heard her say it in so many words, though it had often been implied. I havent considered her my mother since I was fourteen years old. Younger, actually. Joans my mother. And when Strike made no response, she said, You chose Leda. I know you love Joan, but we have entirely different relationships with her. Didnt realize it was a competition, Strike said, reaching for another cigarette. Im only telling you how I feel! And telling me how I feel. Several barbed comments about the infrequency of Strikes visits had already dropped from his sisters lips during their week of enforced proximity. Hed bitten back all irritable retorts. His primary aim was to leave the house without rowing with anyone. I always hated it when Leda came to take us away, said Lucy now, but you were glad to go. He noted the Joan-esque statement of fact, the lack of inquiry. I wasnt always glad to go, Strike contradicted her, thinking of the ferry, Dave Polworth and the smugglers caves, but Lucy seemed to feel that he was trying to rob her of something. Im just saying, you lost your mother years ago. Now ImI might belosing mine. She mopped her eyes again with the damp toilet roll. Lower back throbbing, eyes stinging with tiredness, Strike stood smoking in silence. He knew that Lucy would have liked to excise Leda forever from her memory, and sometimes, remembering a few of the things Leda had put them through, he sympathized. This morning, though, the wraith of Leda seemed to drift on his cigarette smoke around him. He could hear her saying to Lucy, Go on and have a good cry, darling, it always helps, and Give your old mum a fag, Cormy. He couldnt hate her. I cant believe you went out with Dave Polworth last night, said Lucy suddenly. Your last night here! Joan virtually shoved me out of the house, said Strike, nettled. She loves Dave. Anyway, Ill be back in a couple of weeks. Will you? said Lucy, her eyelashes now beaded with tears. Or will you be in the middle of some case and just forget? Strike blew smoke out into the constantly lightening air, which had that flat blue tinge that precedes sunrise. Far to the right, hazily visible over the rooftops of the houses on the slope that was Hillhead, the division between sky and water was becoming clearer on the horizon. No, he said, I wont forget. Because youre good in a crisis, said Lucy, I dont deny that, but its keeping a commitment going that you seem to have a problem with. Joanll need support for months and months, not just when I know that, Luce, said Strike, his temper rising in spite of himself. I understand illness and recuperation, believe it or Yeah, well, said Lucy, you were great when Jack was in hospital, but when everythings fine you simply dont bother. I took Jack out two weeks ago, whatre you? You couldnt even make the effort to come to Lukes birthday party! Hed told all his friends you were going to be there Well, he shouldnt have done, because I told you explicitly over the phone You said youd try No, you said Id try, Strike contradicted her, temper rising now, in spite of his best intentions. You said Youll make it if you can, though. Well, I couldnt make it, I told you so in advance and its not my fault you told Luke differently I appreciate you taking Jack out every now and then, said Lucy, talking over him, but has it never occurred to you that it would be nice if the other two could come, too? Adam cried when Jack came home from the War Rooms! And then you come down here, said Lucy, who seemed determined to get everything off her chest now shed started, and you only bring a present for Jack. What about Luke and Adam? Ted called with the news about Joan and I set straight off. Id been saving those badges for Jack, so I brought them with me. Well, how do you think that makes Luke and Adam feel? Obviously they think you dont like them as much as Jack! I dont, said Strike, finally losing his temper. Adams a whiny little prick and Lukes a complete arsehole. He crushed out his cigarette on the wall, flicked the stub into the hedge and headed back inside, leaving Lucy gasping for air like a beached fish. Back in the dark sitting room, Strike blundered straight into the table nest: the vase of dried flowers toppled heavily onto the patterned carpet and before he knew what he was doing hed crushed the fragile stems and papery heads to dust beneath his false foot. He was still tidying up the fragments as best he could when Lucy strode silently past him toward the door to the stairs, emanating maternal outrage. Strike set the now empty vase back on the table and, waiting until he heard Lucys bedroom door close, headed upstairs for the bathroom, fuming. Afraid to use the shower in case he woke Ted and Joan, he peed, pulled the flush and only then remembered how noisy the old toilet was. Washing as best he could in tepid water while the cistern refilled with a noise like a cement mixer, Strike thought that if anyone slept through that, theyd have to be drugged. Sure enough, on opening the bathroom door, he came face to face with Joan. The top of his aunts head barely came up to Strikes chest. He looked down on her thinning gray hair, into once forget-me-not blue eyes now bleached with age. Her frogged and quilted red dressing gown had the ceremonial dignity of a kabuki robe. Morning, Strike said, trying to sound cheerful and achieving only a fake bonhomie. Didnt wake you, did I? No, no, Ive been awake for a while. How was Dave? she asked. Great, said Strike heartily. Loving his new job. And Penny and the girls? Yeah, theyre really happy to be back in Cornwall. Oh good, said Joan. Daves mum thought Penny might not want to leave Bristol. No, its all worked out great. The bedroom door behind Joan opened. Luke was standing there in his pajamas, rubbing his eyes ostentatiously. You woke me up, he told Strike and Joan. Oh, sorry, love, said Joan. Can I have Coco Pops? Of course you can, said Joan fondly. Luke bounded downstairs, stamping on the stairs to make as much noise as possible. He was gone barely a minute before he came bounding back toward them, glee etched over his freckled face. Granny, Uncle Cormorans broken your flowers. You little shit. Yeah, sorry. The dried ones, Strike told Joan. I knocked them over. The vase is fine Oh, they couldnt matter less, said Joan, moving at once to the stairs. Ill fetch the carpet sweeper. No, said Strike at once, Ive already There are still bits all over the carpet, Luke said. I trod on them. Ill tread on you in a minute, arsehole. Strike and Luke followed Joan back to the sitting room, where Strike insisted on taking the carpet sweeper from Joan, a flimsy, archaic device shed had since the seventies. As he plied it, Luke stood in the kitchen doorway watching him, smirking while shoveling Coco Pops into his mouth. By the time Strike had cleaned the carpet to Joans satisfaction, Jack and Adam had joined the early morning jamboree, along with a stony-faced Lucy, now fully dressed. Can we go to the beach today, Mum? Can we swim? Can I go out in the boat with Uncle Ted? Sit down, Strike told Joan. Ill bring you a cup of tea. But Lucy had already done it. She handed Joan the mug, threw Strike a filthy look, then turned back to the kitchen, answering her sons questions as she went. Whats going on? asked Ted, shuffling into the room in pajamas, confused by this break-of-dawn activity. Hed once been nearly as tall as Strike, who greatly resembled him. His dense, curly hair was now snow white, his deep brown face more cracked than lined, but Ted was still a strong man, though he stooped a little. However, Joans diagnosis seemed to have dealt him a physical blow. He seemed literally shaken, a little disorientated and unsteady. Just getting my stuff together, Ted, said Strike, who suddenly had an overpowering desire to leave. Im going to have to get the first ferry to make the early train. Ah, said Ted. All the way back up to London, are you? Yep, said Strike, chucking his charging lead and deodorant back into the kit bag where the rest of his belongings were already neatly stowed. But Ill be back in a couple of weeks. Youll keep me posted, right? You cant leave without breakfast! said Joan anxiously. Ill make you a sandwich Its too early for me to eat, lied Strike. Ive had a cup of tea and Ill get something on the train. Tell her, he said to Ted, because Joan wasnt listening, but scurrying for the kitchen. Joanie! Ted called. He doesnt want anything! Strike grabbed his jacket off the back of a chair and hoisted the kit bag out to the hall. You should go back to bed, he told Joan, as she hurried to bid him goodbye. I really didnt want to wake you. Rest, all right? Let someone else run the town for a few weeks. I wish youd stop smoking, she said sadly. Strike managed a humorous eye roll, then hugged her. She clung to him the way she had done whenever Leda was waiting impatiently to take him away, and Strike squeezed her back, feeling again the pain of divided loyalties, of being both battleground and prize, of having to give names to what was uncategorizable and unknowable. Bye, Ted, he said, hugging his uncle. Ill ring you when Im home and well fix up a time for the next visit. I couldve driven you, said Uncle Ted feebly. Sure you dont want me to drive you? I like the ferry, lied Strike. In fact, the uneven steps leading down to the boat were almost impossible for him to navigate without assistance from the ferryman, but because he knew it would give them pleasure, he said, Reminds me of you two taking us shopping in Falmouth when we were kids. Lucy was watching him, apparently unconcerned, through the door from the sitting room. Luke and Adam hadnt wanted to leave their Coco Pops, but Jack came wriggling breathlessly into the tiny hall to say, Thanks for my badges, Uncle Corm. It was a pleasure, said Strike, and he ruffled the boys hair. Bye, Luce, he called. See you soon, Jack, he added. 5 He little answerd, but in manly heart His mightie indignation did forbeare, Which was not yet so secret, but some part Thereof did in his frouning face appeare Edmund Spenser The Faerie Queene The bedroom in the bed and breakfast where Robin spent the night barely had room for a single bed, a chest of drawers and a rickety sink plumbed into the corner. The walls were covered in a mauve floral wallpaper that Robin thought must surely have been considered tasteless even in the seventies, the sheets felt damp and the window was imperfectly covered by a tangled Venetian blind. In the harsh glare of a single lightbulb unsoftened by its shade of open wickerwork, Robins reflection looked exhausted and ill-kempt, with purple shadows beneath her eyes. Her backpack contained only those items she always carried on surveillance jobsa beanie hat, should she need to conceal her distinctive red-blonde hair, sunglasses, a change of top, a credit card and ID in a couple of different names. The fresh T-shirt shed just pulled out of her backpack was heavily creased and her hair in urgent need of a wash; the sink was soapless and shed omitted to pack toothbrush or toothpaste, unaware that she was going to be spending the night away from home. Robin was back on the road by eight. In Newton Abbot she stopped at a chemist and a Sainsburys, where she purchased, in addition to basic toiletries and dry shampoo, a small, cheap bottle of 4711 cologne. She cleaned her teeth and made herself as presentable as possible in the supermarket bathroom. While brushing her hair, she received a text from Strike: Ill be in the Palacio Lounge caf? in The Moor, middle of Falmouth. Anyone will tell you where The Moor is. The further west Robin drove, the lusher and greener the landscape became. Yorkshire-born, shed found it extraordinary to see palm trees actually flourishing on English soil, back in Torquay. These twisting, verdant lanes, the luxuriance of the vegetation, the almost sub-tropical greenness was a surprise to a person raised among bare, rolling moors and hillside. Then there were the glints to her left of a quicksilver sea, as wide and gleaming as plate glass, and the tang of the salt now mixed with the citrus of her hastily purchased cologne. In spite of her tiredness she found her spirits buoyed by the glorious morning, and the idea of Strike waiting at journeys end. She arrived in Falmouth at eleven oclock, and drove in search of a parking space through streets packed with tourists and past shop doorways accreted in plastic toys and pubs covered in flags and multicolored window boxes. Once shed parked in The Moor itselfa wide open market square in the heart of the townshe saw that beneath the gaudy summertime trappings, Falmouth boasted some grand old nineteenth-century buildings, one of which housed the Palacio Lounge caf? and restaurant. The high ceilings and classical proportions of what looked like an old courthouse had been decorated in a self-consciously whimsical style, which included garish orange floral wallpaper, hundreds of kitschy paintings in pastel frames, and a stuffed fox dressed as a magistrate. The clientele, which was dominated by students and families, sat on mismatched wooden chairs, their chatter echoing through the cavernous space. After a few seconds Robin spotted Strike, large and surly-looking at the back of the room, seeming far from happy beside a pair of families whose many young children, most of whom were wearing tie-dyed clothing, were racing around between tables. Robin thought she saw the idea of standing to greet her cross Strikes mind as she wound her way through the tables toward him, but if she was right, he decided against. She knew how he looked when his leg was hurting him, the lines around his mouth deeper than usual, as though he had been clenching his jaw. If Robin had looked tired in the dusty bed and breakfast mirror three hours previously, Strike looked utterly drained, his unshaven jaw appearing dirty, the shadows under his eyes dark blue. Morning, he said, struggling to make himself heard over the merry shrieking of the hippy children. Get parked OK? Just round the corner, she said, sitting down. I chose this place because I thought it would be easy to find, he said. A small boy knocked into their table, causing Strikes coffee to slop over onto his plate, which was littered with croissant flakes, and ran off again. What dyou want? Coffee would be great, said Robin loudly, over the cries of the children beside them. Howre things in St. Mawes? Same, said Strike. Im sorry, said Robin. Why? Its not your fault, grunted Strike. This was hardly the greeting Robin had expected after a two-and-a-half drive to pick him up. Possibly her annoyance showed, because Strike added, Thanks for doing this. Appreciate it. Oh, dont pretend you cant see me, dipshit, he added crossly, as a young waiter walked away without spotting his raised hand. Ill go to the counter, said Robin. I need the loo anyway. By the time shed peed and managed to order a coffee from a harassed waiter, a tension headache had begun to pound on the left-hand side of her head. On her return to the table she found Strike looking like thunder, because the children at the next tables were now shrieking louder than ever as they raced around their oblivious parents, who simply shouted over the din. The idea of giving Strike Charlottes telephone message right now passed through Robins mind, only to be dismissed. In fact, the main reason for Strikes foul mood was that the end of his amputated leg was agony. Hed fallen (like a total tit, as he told himself) while getting onto the Falmouth ferry. This feat required a precarious descent down worn stone steps without a handhold, then a step down into the boat with only the boatmans hand for assistance. At sixteen stone, Strike was hard to stabilize when he slipped, and slip he had, with the result that he was now in a lot of pain. Robin took paracetamol out of her bag. Headache, she said, catching Strikes eye. Im not bloody surprised, he said loudly, looking at the parents shouting at each other over the raucous yells of their offspring, but they didnt hear him. The idea of asking Robin for painkillers crossed Strikes mind, but this might engender inquiries and fussing, and hed had quite enough of those in the past week, so he continued to suffer in silence. Wheres the client? she asked, after downing her pills with coffee. About five minutes drive away. Place called Wodehouse Terrace. At this point, the smallest of the children racing around nearby tripped and smacked her face on the wooden floor. The childs shrieks and wails of pain pounded against Robins eardrums. Oh, Daffy! said one of the tie-dyed mothers shrilly, what have you done? The childs mouth was bloody. Her mother crouched beside their table, loudly castigating and soothing, while the girls siblings and friends watched avidly. The ferry-goers this morning had worn similar expressions when Strike had hit the deck. Hes got a false leg, the ferryman had shouted, partly, Strike suspected, in case anyone thought the fall was due to his negligence. The announcement had in no way lessened Strikes mortification or the interest of his fellow travelers. Shall we get going? Robin asked, already on her feet. Definitely, said Strike, wincing as he stood and picked up his holdall. Bloody kids, he muttered, limping after Robin toward the sunlight. 6 Faire Lady, hart of flint would rew The vndeserued woes and sorrowes, which ye shew. Edmund Spenser The Faerie Queene Wodehouse Terrace lay on a hill, with a wide view of the bay below. Many of the houses had had loft conversions, but Anna and Kims, as they saw from the street, had been more extensively modified than any other, with what looked like a square glass box where once there had been roof. What does Anna do? asked Robin, as they climbed the steps toward the deep blue front door. No idea, said Strike, but her wifes a psychologist. I got the impression she isnt keen on the idea of an investigation. He pressed the doorbell. They heard footsteps on what sounded like bare wood, and the door was opened by Dr. Sullivan, tall, blonde and barefoot in jeans and a shirt, the sun glinting off her spectacles. She looked from Strike to Robin, apparently surprised. My partner, Robin Ellacott, Strike explained. Oh, said Kim, looking displeased. You do realizethis is only supposed to be an exploratory meeting. Robin happened to be just up the coast on another case, so Im more than happy to wait in the car, said Robin politely, if Anna would rather speak to Cormoran alone. Wellwell see how Anna feels. Standing back to admit them, Kim added, Straight upstairs, in the sitting room. The house had clearly been remodeled throughout and to a high standard. Everywhere was bleached wood and glass. The bedroom, as Robin saw through an open door, had been relocated to the ground floor, along with what looked like a study. Upstairs, in the glass box theyd seen from the street, was an open-plan area combining kitchen, dining and sitting room, with a dazzling view of the sea. Anna was standing beside a gleaming, expensive coffee machine, wearing a baggy blue cotton jumpsuit and white canvas shoes, which to Robin looked stylish and to Strike, frumpy. Her hair was tied back, revealing the delicacy of her bone structure. Oh, hello, she said, starting at the sight of them. I didnt hear the door over the coffee machine. Annie, said Kim, following Strike and Robin into the room, this is Robin Ellacott, erCamerons partner. Shes happy to go if youd rather just talk to Cormoran, Anna corrected Kim. Do people get that wrong a lot? she asked Strike. More often than not, he said, but with a smile. But its a bloody stupid name. Anna laughed. I dont mind you staying, she told Robin, advancing and offering a handshake. I think I read about you, too, she added, and Robin pretended that she didnt notice Anna glancing down at the long scar on her forearm. Please, sit down, said Kim, gesturing Strike and Robin to an inbuilt seating area around a low Perspex table. Coffee? suggested Anna, and both of them accepted. A ragdoll cat came prowling into the room, stepping delicately through the puddles of sunlight on the floor, its clear blue eyes like Joans across the bay. After subjecting both Strike and Robin to dispassionate scrutiny, it leapt lightly onto the sofa and into Strikes lap. Ironically, said Kim, as she carried a tray laden with cups and biscuits to the table, Cagney absolutely loves men. Strike and Robin laughed politely. Anna brought over the coffee pot, and the two women sat down side by side, facing Strike and Robin, their faces in the full glare of the sun until Anna reached for a remote control, which automatically lowered cream-colored sun blinds. Wonderful place, said Robin, looking around. Thanks, said Kim. Her work, she said, patting Annas knee. Shes an architect. Anna cleared her throat. I want to apologize, she said, looking steadily at Strike with her unusual silver-gray eyes, for the way I behaved last night. Id had a few glasses of wine. You probably thought I was a crank. If Id thought that, said Strike, stroking the loudly purring cat, I wouldnt be here. But mentioning the medium probably gave you entirely the wrong because, believe me, Kims already told me what a fool I was to go and see her. I dont think youre a fool, Annie, Kim said quietly. I think youre vulnerable. Theres a difference. May I ask what the medium said? asked Strike. Does it matter? asked Kim, looking at Strike with what Robin thought was mistrust. Not in an investigative sense, said Strike, but as heshe?is the reason Anna approached me It was a woman, said Anna, and she didnt really tell me anything useful not that I With a nervous laugh, she shook her head and started again. I know it was a stupid thing to do. IIve been through a difficult time recentlyI left my firm and Im about to turn forty and well, Kim was away on a course and Iwell, I suppose I wanted She waved her hands dismissively, took a deep breath and said, Shes quite an ordinary-looking woman who lives in Chiswick. Her house was full of angelsmade of pottery and glass, I mean, and there was a big one painted on velvet over the fireplace. Kim, Anna pressed on, and Robin glanced at the psychologist, whose expression was impassive, Kim thinks shethe mediumknew who my mother wasthat she Googled me before I arrived. Id given her my real name. When I got there, I simply said that my mother died a long time agoalthough of course, said Anna, with another nervous wave of her thin hands, theres no proof that my mothers deadthats half thebut anyway, I told the medium shed died, and that nobody had ever been clear with me about how it happened. So the woman went into awell, I suppose youd call it a trance, Anna said, looking embarrassed, and she told me that people thought they were protecting me for my own good, but that it was time I knew the truth and that I would soon have a leading that would take me to it. And she said your mothers very proud of you and shes always watching over you, and things like that, I suppose theyre boilerplateand then, at the end, she lies in a holy place. Lies in a holy place? repeated Strike. Yes. I suppose she thought that would be comforting, but Im not a churchgoer. The sanctity or otherwise of my mothers final resting placeif shes buriedI mean, its hardly my primary concern. Dyou mind if I take notes? Strike asked. He pulled out a notebook and pen, which Cagney the cat appeared to think were for her personal amusement. She attempted to bat the pen around as Strike wrote the date. Come here, you silly animal, said Kim, getting up to lift the cat clear and put her back on the warm wooden floor. To begin at the beginning, said Strike. You mustve been very young when your mother went missing? Just over a year old, said Anna, so I cant remember her at all. There were no photographs of her in the house while I was growing up. I didnt know what had happened for a long time. Of course, there was no internet back thenanyway, my mother kept her own surname after marriage. I grew up as Anna Phipps, which is my fathers name. If anybody had said Margot Bamborough to me before I was eleven, I wouldnt have known she had any connection to me. I thought Cynthia was my mum. She was my childminder when I was little, she explained. Shes a third cousin of my fathers and quite a bit younger than him, but shes a Phipps, too, so I assumed we were a standard nuclear family. I meanwhy wouldnt I? I do remember, once Id started school, questioning why I was calling Cyn Cyn instead of Mum. But then Dad and Cyn decided to get married, and they told me I could call her Mum now if I wanted to, and I thought, oh, I see, I had to use her name before, because they werent married. You fill in the gaps when youre a child, dont you? With your own weird logic. I was seven or eight when a girl at school said to me, Thats not your real mum. Your real mum disappeared. It sounded mad. I didnt ask Dad or Cyn about it. I just locked it away, but I think, on some deep level, I sensed Id just been handed the answer to some of the strange things Id noticed and never been given answers to. I was eleven when I found out properly. By then, Id heard other things from other kids at school. Your real mum ran away was one of them. Then one day, this really poisonous boy said to me, Your mum was killed by a man who cut off her head. I went home and I told my father what that boy had said. I wanted him to laugh, to say it was ridiculous, what a horrible little boy but he turned white. That same evening he and Cynthia called me downstairs out of my bedroom, sat me down in the sitting room and told me the truth. And everything I thought I knew crumbled away, said Anna quietly. Who thinks something like this has happened in their own family? I adored Cyn. I got on better with her than with my father, to tell you the truth. And then I found out that she wasnt my mum at all, and theyd both liedlied in fact, lied by omission. They told me my mother walked out of her GPs practice one night and vanished. The last person to see her alive was the receptionist. She said she was off to the pub, which was five minutes up the road. Her best friend was waiting there. When my mother didnt turn up, the friend, Oonagh Kennedy, whod waited an hour, thought she must have forgotten. She called my parents house. My mother wasnt there. My father called the practice, but it was closed. It got dark. My mother didnt come home. My father called the police. They investigated for months and months. Nothing. No clues, no sightingsat least, thats what my father and Cyn said, but Ive since read things that contradict that. I asked Dad and Cyn where my mothers parents were. They said they were dead. That turned out to be true. My grandfather died of a heart attack a couple of years after my mother disappeared and my grandmother died of a stroke a year later. My mother was an only child, so there were no other relatives I could meet or talk to about her. I asked for photographs. My father said hed got rid of them all, but Cyn dug some out for me, a couple of weeks after I found out. She asked me not to tell my father shed done it; to hide them. I did: I had a pajama case shaped like a rabbit and I kept my mothers photographs in there for years. Did your father and stepmother explain to you what might have happened to your mother? Strike asked. Dennis Creed, you mean? said Anna. Yes, but they didnt tell me details. They said there was a chance shed been killed by aby a bad man. They had to tell me that much, because of what the boy at school had said. It was an appalling idea, thinking she might have been killed by CreedI found out his name soon enough, kids at school were happy to fill me in. I started having nightmares about her, headless. Sometimes she came into my bedroom at night. Sometimes I dreamed I found her head in my toy chest. I got really angry with my father and Cyn, said Anna, twisting her fingers together. Angry that theyd never told me, obviously, but I also started wondering what else they were hiding, whether they were involved in my mother disappearing, whether theyd wanted her out of the way, so they could marry. I went a bit off the rails, started playing truant one weekend I took off and was brought home by the police. My father was livid. Of course, I look back, and after what had happened to my mother obviously, me going missing, even for a few hours I gave them hell, to tell you the truth, said Anna shamefacedly. But all credit to Cyn, she stuck by me. She never gave up. She and Dad had had kids together by thenIve got a younger brother and sisterand there was family therapy and holidays with bonding activities, all led by Cyn, because my father certainly didnt want to do it. The subject of my mother just makes him angry and aggrieved. I remember him yelling at me, didnt I realize how terrible it was for him to have it all dragged up again, how did I think he felt When I was fifteen I tried to find my mothers friend, Oonagh, the one she was supposed to be meeting the night she disappeared. They were Bunny Girls together, said Anna, with a little smile, but I didnt know that at the time. I tracked Oonagh down in Wolverhampton, and she was quite emotional to hear from me. We had a couple of lovely phone calls. She told me things I really wanted to know, about my mothers sense of humor, the perfume she woreRive Gauche, I went out and blew my birthday money on a bottle next dayhow she was addicted to chocolate and was an obsessive Joni Mitchell fan. My mother came more alive to me when I was talking to Oonagh than through the photographs, or anything Dad or Cyn had told me. But my father found out Id spoken to Oonagh and he was furious. He made me give him Oonaghs number and called her and accused her of encouraging me to defy him, told her I was troubled, in therapy and what I didnt need was people stirring. He told me not to wear the Rive Gauche, either. He said he couldnt stand the smell of it. So I never did meet Oonagh, and when I tried to reconnect with her in my twenties, I couldnt find her. She might have passed away, for all I know. I got into university, left home and started reading everything I could about Dennis Creed. The nightmares came back, but it didnt get me any closer to finding out what really happened. Apparently the man in charge of the investigation into my mothers disappearance, a detective inspector called Bill Talbot, always thought Creed took her. Talbot will be dead by now; he was coming up for retirement anyway. Then, a few years out of uni, I had the bright idea of starting a website, said Anna. My girlfriend at the time was tech-savvy. She helped me set it up. I was very naive, she sighed. I said who I was and begged for information about my mother. You can probably imagine what happened. All kinds of theories: psychics telling me where to dig, people telling me my father had obviously done it, others telling me I wasnt really Margots daughter, that I was after money and publicity, and some really malicious messages as well, saying my mother had probably run off with a lover and worse. A couple of journalists got in touch, too. One of them ran an awful piece in the Daily Express about our family: they contacted my father and that was just about the final nail in the coffin for our relationship. Its never really recovered, said Anna bleakly. When I told him Im gay, he seemed to think I was only doing it to spite him. And Cyns gone over to his side a bit, these last few years. She always says, Ive got a loyalty to your dad, too, Anna. So, said Anna, thats where we are. There was a brief silence. Dreadful for you, said Robin. It is, agreed Kim, placing her hand on Annas knee again, and Im wholly sympathetic to Annas desire for resolution, of course I am. But is it realistic, she said, looking from Robin to Strike, and I mean this with no offense to you two, to think that youll achieve what the police havent, after all this time? Realistic? said Strike. No. Robin noticed Annas downward look and the sudden rush of tears into her large eyes. She felt desperately sorry for the older woman, but at the same time she respected Strikes honesty, and it seemed to have impressed the skeptical Kim, too. Heres the truth, Strike said, tactfully looking at his notes until Anna had finished drying her eyes with the back of her hand. I think wed have a reasonable chance of getting hold of the old police file, because weve got decent contacts at the Met. We can sift right through the evidence again, revisit witnesses as far as thats possible, basically make sure every stones been turned over twice. But its odds on that after all this time, we wouldnt find any more than the police did, and wed be facing two major obstacles. Firstly, zero forensic evidence. From what I understand, literally no trace of your mother was ever found, is that right? No items of clothing, bus passnothing. True, mumbled Anna. Secondly, as youve just pointed out, a lot of the people connected with her or who witnessed anything that night are likely to have died. I know, said Anna, and a tear trickled, sparkling, down her nose onto the Perspex table. Kim reached out and put an arm around her shoulders. Maybe its turning forty, said Anna, with a sob, but I cant stand the idea that Ill go to my grave never knowing what happened. I understand that, said Strike, but I dont want to promise what Im unlikely to be able to deliver. Have there, asked Robin, been any new leads or developments over the years? Kim answered. She seemed a little shaken by Annas naked distress, and kept her arm around her shoulders. Not as far as we know, do we, Annie? But any information of that kind would probably have gone to RoyAnnas father. And he might not have told us. He acts as though none of it ever happened; its how he copes, said Anna, wiping her tears away. He pretends my mother never existedexcept for the inconvenient fact that if she hadnt, I wouldnt be here. Believe it or not, she said, its the possibility that she just went away of her own accord and never came back, never wanted to see how I was doing, or let us know where she was, that really haunts me. Thats the thing I cant bear to contemplate. My grandmother on my fathers side, who I never lovedshe was one of the meanest women Ive ever mettook it upon herself to tell me that it had always been her private belief that my mother had simply run away. That she didnt like being a wife and a mother. That hurt me more than I can tell you, the thought that my mother would let everyone go through the horror of wondering what had happened to her, and never check that her daughter was all right Even if Dennis Creed killed her, said Anna, it would be terribleawfulbut it would be over. I could mourn rather than live with the possibility that shes out there somewhere, living under a different name, not caring what happened to us all. There was a brief silence, in which both Strike and Robin drank coffee, Anna sniffed, and Kim left the sofa area to tear off kitchen roll, which she handed to her wife. A second ragdoll cat entered the room. She subjected the four humans to a supercilious glare before lying down and stretching in a patch of sunlight. Thats Lacey, said Kim, while Anna mopped her face. She doesnt really like anyone, even us. Strike and Robin laughed politely again. How would this work? asked Kim abruptly. How dyou charge? By the hour, said Strike. Youd get an itemized monthly bill. I can email you our rates, he offered, but Id imagine you two will want to talk this over properly before coming to a decision. Yes, definitely, said Kim, but as she gave Strike her email address she looked with concern again at Anna, who was sitting with head bowed, still pressing kitchen roll to her eyes at regular intervals. Strikes stump protested at being asked to support his weight again so soon after sitting down, but there seemed little more to discuss, especially as Anna had regressed into a tearful silence. Slightly regretting the untouched plate of biscuits, the detective shook Annas cool hand. Thanks, anyway, she said, and he had the feeling that he had disappointed her, that shed hoped he would make her a promise of the truth, that he would swear upon his honor to do what everyone else had failed to do. Kim showed them out of the house. Well call you later, she said. This afternoon. Will that be all right? Great, well wait to hear from you, said Strike. Robin glanced back as she and Strike headed down the sunlit garden steps toward the street, and caught Kim giving them a strange look, as though shed found something in the pair of visitors that she hadnt expected. Catching Robins eye, she smiled reflexively, and closed the blue door behind them. 7 Long they thus traueiled in friendly wise, Through countreyes waste, and eke well edifyde Edmund Spenser The Faerie Queene As they headed out of Falmouth, Strikes mood turned to cheerfulness, which Robin attributed mainly to the interest of a possible new case. Shed never yet known an intriguing problem to fail to engage his attention, no matter what might be happening in his private life. She was partially right: Strikes interest had certainly been piqued by Annas story, but he was mainly cheered by the prospect of keeping weight off his prosthesis for a few hours, and by the knowledge that every passing minute put further distance between himself and his sister. Opening the car window, allowing the familiar sea air to rush bracingly inside the old car, he lit a cigarette and, blowing smoke away from Robin, asked, Seen much of Morris while Ive been away? Saw him yesterday, said Robin. Paid him for his months expenses. Ah, great, cheers, said Strike, I meant to remind you that needed doing. What dyou think of him? Barclay says hes good at the job, except he talks too much in the car. Yeah, said Robin noncommittally, he does like to talk. Hutchins thinks hes a bit smarmy, said Strike, subtly probing. Hed noticed the special tone Morris reserved for Robin. Hutchins had also reported that Morris had asked him what Robins relationship status was. Mm, said Robin, well, I havent really had enough contact with him to form an opinion. Given Strikes current stress levels and the amount of work the agency was struggling to cover, shed decided not to criticize his most recent hire. They needed an extra man. At least Morris was good at the job. Pat likes him, she added, partly out of mischief, and was amused to see, out of the corner of her eye, Strike turn to look at her, scowling. Thats no bloody recommendation. Unkind, said Robin. You realize in a weeks time its going to be harder to sack her? Her probation periods nearly up. I dont want to sack her, said Robin. I think shes great. Well, then, on your head be it if she causes trouble down the line. It wont be on my head, said Robin. Youre not pinning Pat on me. Hiring her was a joint decision. You were the one who was sick of temps And you were the one who said it might not be a bad idea to get a more traditional manager in and we shouldnt discount her because of her age I know what I said, and I stand by the age thing. We do need someone who understands a spreadsheet, whos organized, but you were the one who I didnt want you accusing me of ageism. you were the one who offered her the job, Robin finished firmly. Dunno what I was bloody thinking, muttered Strike, flicking ash out of the window. Patricia Chauncey was fifty-six and looked sixty-five. A thin woman with a deeply lined, monkeyish face and implausibly jet-black hair, she vaped continually in the office, but was to be seen drawing deeply on a Superking the moment her feet touched the pavement at the end of the days work. Pats voice was so deep and rasping that she was often mistaken for Strike on the phone. She sat at what once had been Robins desk in the outer office and had taken over the bulk of the agencys phone-answering and administrative duties now that Robin had moved to full-time detection. Strike and Pats relationship had been combative from the start, which puzzled Robin, who liked them both. Robin was used to Strikes intermittent bouts of moodiness, and prone to give him the benefit of the doubt, especially when she suspected he was in pain, but Pat had no compunction about snapping Would a thanks kill you? if Strike showed insufficient gratitude when she passed him his phone messages. She evidently felt none of the reverence some of their temps had displayed toward the now famous detective, one of whom had been sacked on the spot when Strike realized she was surreptitiously filming him on her mobile from the outer office. Indeed, the office managers demeanor suggested that she lived in daily expectation of finding out things to Strikes discredit, and shed displayed a certain satisfaction on hearing that the dent in one of the filing cabinets was due to the fact that hed once punched it. On the other hand, the filing was up to date, the accounts were in order, all receipts were neatly docketed, the phone was answered promptly, messages were passed on accurately, they never ran out of teabags or milk, and Pat had never once arrived late, no matter the weather and irrespective of Tube delays. It was true, too, that Pat liked Morris, who was the recipient of most of her rare smiles. Morris was always careful to pay Pat his full tribute of blue-eyed charm before turning his attention to Robin. Pat was already alert to the possibility of romance between her younger colleagues. Hes lovely-looking, shed told Robin just the previous week, after Morris had phoned in his location so that the temporarily unreachable Barclay could be told where to take over surveillance on their biggest case. Youve got to give him that. I havent got to give him anything, Robin had said, a little crossly. It was bad enough having Ilsa badger her about Strike in her leisure time without Pat starting on Morris during her working hours. Quite right, Pat had responded, unfazed. Make him earn it. Anyway, said Strike, finishing his cigarette and crushing the stub out in the tin Robin kept for that purpose in the glove compartment, youve wrapped up Tufty. Bloody good going. Thanks, Robin said. But theres going to be press. Bigamys always news. Yeah, said Strike. Well, its going to be worse for him than us, but its worth trying to keep our name out of it if we can. Ill have a word with Mrs.-Campion-in-Windsor. So that leaves us, he counted the names on his thick fingers, with Two-Times, Twinkletoes, Postcard and Shifty. It had become the agencys habit to assign nicknames to their targets and clients, mainly to avoid letting real names slip in public or in emails. Two-Times was a previous client of the agency, whod recently resurfaced after trying other private detectives and finding them unsatisfactory. Strike and Robin had previously investigated two of his girlfriends. At a superficial glance, he seemed most unlucky in love, a man whose partners, initially attracted by his fat bank balance, seemed incapable of fidelity. Over time, Strike and Robin had come to believe that he derived obscure emotional or sexual satisfaction from being cheated on, and that they were being paid to provide evidence that, far from upsetting him, gave him pleasure. Once confronted with photographic evidence of her perfidy, the girlfriend of the moment would be confronted, dismissed and another found, and the whole pattern repeated. This time round, he was dating a glamour model who thus far, to Two-Times poorly concealed disappointment, seemed to be faithful. Twinkletoes, whose unimaginative nickname had been chosen by Morris, was a twenty-four-year-old dancer who was currently having an affair with a thirty-nine-year-old double-divorc?e, notable mainly for her history of drug abuse and her enormous trust fund. The socialites father was employing the agency to discover anything they could about Twinkletoes background or behavior, which could be used to prize his daughter away from him. Postcard was, so far, an entirely unknown quantity. A middle-aged and, in Robins opinion, fairly unattractive television weather forecaster had come to the agency after the police had said there was nothing they could do about the postcards that had begun to arrive at his place of work and, most worryingly, hand delivered to his house in the small hours. The cards made no threats; indeed, they were often no more than banal comments on the weathermans choice of tie, yet they gave evidence of knowing far more about the mans movements and private life than a stranger should have. The use of postcards was also a peculiar choice, when persecution was so much easier, these days, online. The agencys subcontractor, Andy Hutchins, had now spent two solid weeks worth of nights parked outside the weathermans house, but Postcard hadnt yet shown themselves. Last, and most lucrative, was the interesting case of Shifty, a young investment banker whose rapid rise through his company had generated a predictable amount of resentment among overlooked colleagues, which had exploded into full-blown suspicion when hed been promoted to the second-in-command job ahead of three undeniably better qualified candidates. Exactly what leverage Shifty had on the CEO (known to the agency as Shiftys Boss or SB) was now a matter of interest not only to Shiftys subordinates, but to a couple of suspicious board members, whod met Strike in a dark bar in the City to lay out their concerns. Strikes current strategy was to try to find out more about Shifty through his personal assistant, and to this end Morris had been given the job of chatting her up after hours, revealing neither his real name nor his occupation, but trying to gauge how deep her loyalty to Shifty ran. Dyou need to be back in London by any particular time? Strike asked, after a brief silence. No, said Robin, why? Would you mind, said Strike, if we stop for food? I didnt have breakfast. Despite remembering that he had, in fact, had a plate full of croissant crumbs in front of him when she arrived at the Palacio Lounge, Robin agreed. Strike seemed to read her mind. You cant count a croissant. Mostly air. Robin laughed. By the time they reached Subway at Cornwall Services, the atmosphere between the two of them had become almost light-hearted, notwithstanding their tiredness. Once Robin, mindful of her resolution to eat more healthily, had started on her salad and Strike had taken a few satisfying mouthfuls of his steak and cheese sandwich, he emailed Kim Sullivan their form letter about billing clients, then said, I had a row with Lucy this morning. Robin surmised that it must have been a bad one, for Strike to mention it. Five oclock, in the garden, while I was having a quiet smoke. Bit early for conflict, said Robin, picking unenthusiastically through lettuce leaves. Well, it turns out were competing in the Who Loves Joan Best Handicap Stakes. Didnt even know Id been entered. He ate in silence for a minute, then went on, It ended with me telling her I thought Adams a whiny prick and Lukes an arsehole. Robin, whod been sipping her water, inhaled, and was seized by a paroxysm of coughs. Diners at nearby tables glanced round as Robin spluttered and gasped. Grabbing a paper napkin from the table to mop her chin and her streaming eyes, she wheezed, Whaton earthdid you say that for? Because Adams a whiny prick and Lukes an arsehole. Still trying to cough water out of her windpipe, Robin laughed, eyes streaming, but shook her head. Bloody hell, Cormoran, she said, when at last she could talk properly. You havent just had a solid week of them. Luke broke my new headphones, then ran off with my leg, the little shit. Then Lucy accuses me of favoring Jack. Of course I favor himhes the only decent one. Yes, but telling their mother Yeah, I know, said Strike heavily. Ill ring and apologize. There was a brief pause. But for fucks sake, he growled, why do I have to take all three of them out together? Neither of the others give a toss about the military. Adam cried when you came back from the War Rooms, my arse. The little bastard didnt like that Id bought Jack stuff, thats all. If Lucy had her way, Id be taking them on group outings every weekend, and theyd take turns to choose; itll be the zoo and effing go-karting, and everything that was good about me seeing Jackll be ruined. I like Jack, said Strike, with what appeared to be surprise. Were interested in the same stuff. Whats with this mania for treating them all the same? Useful life lesson, Id have thought, realizing you arent owed. You dont get stuff automatically because of who youre related to. But fine, she wants me to buy the other two presents, and he framed a square in mid-air with his hands. Try Not Being a Little Shit. Ill get that made up as a plaque for Lukes bedroom wall. They bought a bag of snacks, then resumed their drive. As they turned out onto the road again, Strike expressed his guilt that he couldnt share the driving, because the old Land Rover was too much of a challenge with his false leg. It doesnt matter, said Robin. I dont mind. Whats funny? she added, seeing Strike smirking at something he had found in their bag of food. English strawberries, he said. And thats comical, why? He explained about Dave Polworths fury that goods of Cornish origin werent labeled as such, and his commensurate glee that more and more locals were putting their Cornish identity above English on forms. Social identity theorys very interesting, said Robin. That and self-categorization theory. I studied them at uni. There are implications for businesses as well as society, you know She talked happily for a couple of minutes before realizing, on glancing sideways, that Strike had fallen fast asleep. Choosing not to take offense, because he looked gray with tiredness, Robin fell silent, and other than the occasional grunting snore, there was no more communication to be had from Strike until, on the outskirts of Swindon, he suddenly jerked awake again. Shit, he said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, sorry. How long was I asleep? About three hours, said Robin. Shit, he said again, sorry, and immediately reached for a cigarette. Ive been kipping on the worlds most uncomfortable sofa and the kids have woken me up at the crack of fucking dawn every day. Want anything from the food bag? Yes, said Robin, throwing the diet to the winds. She was in urgent need of a pick-me-up. Chocolate. English or Cornish, I dont mind. Sorry, Strike said for a third time. You were telling me about a social theory or something. Robin grinned. You fell asleep around the time I was telling you my fascinating application of social identity theory to detective practice. Which is? he said, trying to make up in politeness now what he had lost earlier. Robin, who knew perfectly well that this was why he had asked the question, said, In essence, we tend to sort each other and ourselves into groupings, and that usually leads to an overestimation of similarities between members of a group, and an underestimation of the similarities between insiders and outsiders. So youre saying all Cornishmen arent rugged salt-of-the-earthers and all Englishmen arent pompous arseholes? Strike unwrapped a Yorkie and put it into her hand. Sounds unlikely, but Ill run it past Polworth next time we meet. Ignoring the strawberries, which had been Robins purchase, Strike opened a can of Coke and drank it while smoking and watching the sky turn bloody as they drew nearer to London. Dennis Creeds still alive, you know, said Strike, watching trees blur out of the window. I was reading about him online this morning. Where is he? asked Robin. Broadmoor, said Strike. He went to Wakefield initially, then Belmarsh, and was transferred to Broadmoor in 95. What was the psychiatric diagnosis? Controversial. Psychiatrists disagreed about whether or not he was sane at his trial. Very high IQ. In the end the jury decided he was capable of knowing what he was doing was wrong, hence prison, not hospital. But he mustve developed symptoms since that to justify medical treatment. On a very small amount of reading, Strike went on, I can see why the lead investigator thought Margot Bamborough might have been one of Creeds victims. Allegedly, there was a small van seen speeding dangerously in the area, around the time she should have been walking toward the Three Kings. Creed used a van, Strike elucidated, in response to Robins questioning look, in some of the other known abductions. The lamps along the motorway had been lit before Robin, having finished her Yorkie, quoted: She lies in a holy place. Still smoking, Strike snorted. Typical medium bollocks. You think? Yes, I bloody think, said Strike. Very convenient, the way people can only speak in crossword clues from the afterlife. Come off it. All right, calm down. I was only thinking out loud. You could spin almost anywhere as a holy place if you wanted. Clerkenwell, where she disappearedthat whole areas got some kind of religious connection. Monks or something. Know where Dennis Creed was living in 1974? Go on. Paradise Park, Islington, said Strike. Oh, said Robin. So you think the medium did know who Annas mother was? If I was in the medium game, Id sure as hell Google clients names before they showed up. But it couldve been a fancy touch designed to sound comforting, like Anna said. Hints at a decent burial. However bad her end was, its purified by where her remains are. Creed admitted to scattering bone fragments in Paradise Park, by the way. Stamped them into the flower-beds. Although the car was still stuffy, Robin felt a small, involuntary shudder run through her. Fucking ghouls, said Strike. Who? Mediums, psychics, all those shysters preying on people. You dont think some of them believe in what theyre doing? Think they really are getting messages from the beyond? I think there are a lot of nutters in the world, and the less we reward them for their nuttery, the better for all of us. The mobile rang in Strikes pocket. He pulled it out. Cormoran Strike. Yes, helloits Anna Phipps. Ive got Kim here, too. Strike turned the mobile to speakerphone. Hope you can hear us all right, he said, over the rumble and rattle of the Land Rover. Were still in the car. Yes, it is noisy, said Anna. Ill pull over, said Robin, and she did so, turning smoothly onto the hard shoulder. Oh, thats better, said Anna, as Robin turned off the engine. Well, Kim and I have talked it over, and weve decided: we would like to hire you. Robin felt a jolt of excitement. Great, said Strike. Were very keen to help, if we can. But, said Kim, we feel that, for psychological andwell, candidly, financialreasons wed like to set a term on the investigation, because if the police havent solved this case in nigh on forty yearsI mean, you could be looking for the next forty and find nothing. Thats true, said Strike. So We think a year, said Anna, sounding nervous. What do youdoes that seem reasonable? Its what I would have suggested, said Strike. To be honest, I dont think weve got much chance in anything under twelve months. Is there anything more you need from me to get started? Anna asked, sounding both nervous and excited. Im sure something will occur to me, said Strike, taking out his notebook to check a name, but it would be good to speak to your father and Cynthia. The other end of the line became completely silent. Strike and Robin looked at each other. I dont think theres any chance of that, said Anna. Im sorry, but if my father knew I was doing this, I doubt hed ever forgive me. And what about Cynthia? The thing is, came Kims voice, Annas fathers been unwell recently. Cynthia is the more reasonable of the two on this subject, but she wont want anything to upset Roy just now. Well, no problem, said Strike, raising his eyebrows at Robin. Our first prioritys got to be getting hold of the police file. In the meantime, Ill email you one of our standard contracts. Print it out, sign it and send it back, well get going. Thank you, said Anna and, with a slight delay, Kim said, OK, then. They hung up. Well, well, said Strike. Our first cold case. This is going to be interesting. And weve got a year, said Robin, pulling back out onto the motorway. Theyll extend that if we look as though were onto something, said Strike. Good luck with that, said Robin sardonically. Kims prepared to give us a year so she can tell Anna theyve tried everything. Ill bet you a fiver right now we dont get any extensions. Ill take that bet, said Strike. If theres a hint of a lead, Annas going to want to see it through to the end. The remainder of the journey was spent discussing the agencys four current investigations, a conversation that took them all the way to the top of Denmark Street, where Strike got out. Cormoran, said Robin, as he lifted the holdall out of the back of the Land Rover, theres a message on your desk from Charlotte Campbell. She called the day before yesterday and asked you to ring her back. She said shes got something you want. There was a brief moment where Strike simply looked at Robin, his expression unreadable. Right. Thanks. Well, Ill see you tomorrow. No, I wont, he instantly contradicted himself, youve got time off. Enjoy. And with a slam of the rear door he limped off toward the office, head down, carrying his holdall over his shoulder, leaving an exhausted Robin no wiser as to whether he did or didnt want whatever it was that Charlotte Campbell had. PART TWO Then came the Autumne all in yellow clad Edmund Spenser The Faerie Queene 8 Full dreadfull thinges out of that balefull booke He red Edmund Spenser The Faerie Queene When Strike and Robin broke the news of her husbands bigamy, the white-faced woman they now called the Second Mrs. Tufty had sat in silence for a couple of minutes. Her small but charming house in central Windsor was quiet that Tuesday morning, her son and daughter at primary school, and shed cleaned before they arrived: there was a smell of Pledge in the air and Hoover marks on the carpet. Upon the highly polished coffee table lay ten photographs of Tufty in Torquay, minus his toupee, laughing as he walked out of the pizza restaurant with the teenage boys who so strongly resembled the young children hed fathered in Windsor, his arm around a smiling woman who might have been their clients older sister. Robin, who could remember exactly how shed felt when Sarah Shadlocks diamond earring had fallen out of her own marital bed, could only guess at the scale of pain, humiliation and shame behind the taut face. Strike was speaking conventional words of sympathy, but Robin would have bet her entire bank account that Mrs. Tufty hadnt heard a wordand knew shed been right when Mrs. Tufty suddenly stood up, shaking so badly that Strike also struggled to his feet, mid-sentence, in case she needed catching. However, she walked jerkily past him out of the room. Shortly afterward, they heard the front door open and spotted their client through the net curtain, approaching a red Audi Q3 parked in front of the house with a golf club in her hand. Oh shit, said Robin. By the time they reached her, the Second Mrs. Tufty had smashed the windscreen and put several deep dents in the roof of the car. Gawping neighbors had appeared at windows and a pair of Pomeranians were yapping frenziedly behind glass in the house opposite. When Strike grabbed the four iron out of her hand, Mrs. Tufty swore at him, tried to wrestle it back, then burst into a storm of tears. Robin put her arm around their client and steered her firmly back into the house, Strike bringing up the rear, holding the golf club. In the kitchen, Robin instructed Strike to make strong coffee and find brandy. On Robins advice, Mrs. Tufty called her brother and begged him to come, quickly, but when shed hung up and begun scrolling to find Tuftys number, Robin jerked the mobile out of her well-manicured hand. Give it back! said Mrs. Tufty, wild-eyed and ready to fight. The bastard the bastard I want to talk to him give it back! Bad idea, said Strike, putting coffee and brandy in front of her. Hes already proven hes adept at hiding money and assets from you. You need a shit-hot lawyer. They remained with the client until her brother, a suited HR executive, arrived. He was annoyed that hed been asked to leave work early, and so slow at grasping what he was being told that Strike became almost irate and Robin felt it necessary to intervene to stop a row. Fucks sake, muttered Strike, as they drove back toward London. He was already married to someone else when he married your sister. How hard is that to grasp? Very hard, said Robin, an edge to her voice. People dont expect to find themselves in these kinds of situations. Dyou think they heard me when I asked them not to tell the press we were involved? No, said Robin. She was right. A fortnight after theyd visited Windsor, they woke to find several tabloids carrying front-page expos?s of Tufty and his three women, a picture of Strike in all the inside pages and his name in one of the headlines. He was news in his own right now, and the juxtaposition of famous detective and squat, balding, wealthy man whod managed to run two families and a mistress was irresistible. Strike had only ever given evidence at noteworthy court cases while sporting the full beard that grew conveniently fast when he needed it, and the picture the press used most often was an old one that showed him in uniform. Nevertheless, it was an ongoing battle to remain as inconspicuous as his chosen profession demanded, and being badgered for comment at his offices was an inconvenience he could do without. The storm of publicity was prolonged when both Mrs. Tuftys formed an offensive alliance against their estranged husband. Showing an unforeseen taste for publicity, they not only granted a womens magazine a joint interview, but appeared on several daytime television programs together to discuss their long deception, their shock, their newfound friendship, their intention to make Tufty rue the day hed met either of them and to issue a thinly veiled warning to the pregnant mistress in Glasgow (who, astonishingly, seemed disposed to stand by Tufty) that she had another think coming if she imagined hed have two farthings to rub together once his wives had finished with him. September proceeded, cool and unsettled. Strike called Lucy to say sorry for being rude about her sons, but she remained cold even after the apology, doubtless because hed merely expressed regret for voicing his opinion out loud, and hadnt retracted it. Strike was relieved to discover that her boys had weekend sporting fixtures now that school had started again, which meant he didnt have to sleep on the sofa on the next visit to St. Mawes, and could devote himself to Ted and Joan without the distraction of Lucys tense, accusatory presence. Though as desperate to cook for him as ever, his aunt was already enfeebled by the chemotherapy. It was painful to watch her dragging herself around the kitchen, but she wouldnt sit down, even when Ted implored her to do so. On Saturday night, his uncle broke down after Joan had gone to bed, and sobbed into Strikes shoulder. Ted had once seemed an unperturbable, invulnerable bastion of strength to his nephew, and Strike, who could normally sleep under almost any conditions, lay awake past two in the morning, staring into the darkness that was deeper by far than a London night, wondering whether he should stay longer, and despising himself for deciding that it was right that he should return to London. In truth, the agency was so busy that he felt guilty about the burden it was placing on Robin and his subcontractors by taking a long weekend in Cornwall. In addition to the five open cases still on the agencys books, he and Robin were juggling increased management demands made by the expanded workforce, and negotiating a years extension on the office lease with the developer whod bought their building. They were also trying, though so far without luck, to persuade one of the agencys police contacts to find and hand over the forty-year-old file on Margot Bamboroughs disappearance. Morris was ex-Met, as was Andy Hutchins, their most longstanding subcontractor, a quiet, saturnine man whose MS was thankfully in remission, and both had tried to call in favors from former colleagues as well, but so far, responses to the agencys requests had ranged from mice have probably had it to fuck off, Strike, Im busy. One rainy afternoon, while tailing Shifty through the City, trying not to limp too obviously and inwardly cursing the second pavement seller of cheap umbrellas whod got in his way, Strikes mobile rang. Expecting to be given another problem to sort out, he was caught off guard when the caller said, Hi, Strike. George Layborn here. Heard youre looking at the Bamborough case again? Strike had only met DI Layborn once before, and while it had been in the context of a case where Strike and Robin had given material assistance to the Met, he hadnt considered their association close enough to ask Layborn for help on getting the Bamborough file. Hi, George. Yeah, you heard right, said Strike, watching Shifty turn into a wine bar. Well, I could meet you tomorrow evening, if you fancy it. Feathers, six oclock? said Layborn. So Strike asked Barclay to swap jobs, and headed to the pub near Scotland Yard the following evening, where he found Layborn already at the bar, waiting for him. A paunchy, gray-haired, middle-aged man, Layborn bought both of them pints of London Pride, and they removed themselves to a corner table. My old man worked the Bamborough case, under Bill Talbot, Layborn told Strike. He told me all about it. Whatve you got so far? Nothing. Ive been looking back at old press reports, and Im trying to trace people who worked at the practice she disappeared from. Not much else I can do until I see the police file, but nobodys been able to help with that so far. Layborn, who had demonstrated a fondness for colorfully obscene turns of phrase on their only previous encounter, seemed oddly subdued tonight. It was a fucking mess, the Bamborough investigation, he said quietly. Anyone told you about Talbot yet? Go on. He went off his rocker, said Layborn. Proper mental breakdown. Hed been going funny before he took on the case, but you know, it was the seventieslooking after the workforces mental health was for poofs. Hed been a good officer in his day, mind you. A couple of junior officers noticed he was acting odd, but when they raised it, they were told to eff off. Hed been heading up the Bamborough case six months before his wife called an ambulance in the middle of the night and got him sectioned. He got his pension, but it was too late for the case. He died a good ten years ago, but I heard he never got over fucking up the investigation. Once he recovered he was mortified about how hed behaved. How was that? Putting too much stock in his own intuitions, didnt take evidence properly, had no interest in talking to witnesses if they didnt fit his theory Which was that Creed abducted her, right? Exactly, said Layborn. Although Creed was still called the Essex Butcher back then, because he dumped the first couple of bodies in Epping Forest and Chigwell. Layborn took a long pull on his pint. They found most of Jackie Aylett in an industrial bin. Hes an animal, that one. Animal. Who took over the case after Talbot? Bloke called Lawson, Ken Lawson, said Layborn, but hed lost six months, the trail had gone cold and hed inherited a right balls-up. Added to which, she was unlucky in her timing, Margot Bamborough, Layborn continued. You know what happened a month after she vanished? What? Lord Lucan disappeared, said Layborn. You try and keep a missing GP on the front pages after a peer of the realms nanny gets bludgeoned to death and he goes on the run. Theyd already used the Bunny Girl picturesdid you know Bamborough was a Bunny Girl? Yeah, said Strike. Helped fund her medical degree, said Layborn, but according to my old man, the family didnt like that being dragged up. Put their backs right up, even though those pictures definitely got the case a bit more coverage. Way of the world, he said, isnt it? What did your dad think happened to her? asked Strike. Well, to be honest, sighed Layborn, he thought Talbot was probably right: Creed had taken her. There were no signs she meant to disappearpassport was still in the house, no case packed, no clothes missing, stable job, no money worries, young child. Hard to drag a fit, healthy twenty-nine-year-old woman off a busy street without someone noticing, said Strike. True, said Layborn. Creed usually picked them off when they were drunk. Having said that, it was a dark evening and rainy. Hed pulled that trick before. And he was good at lulling womens suspicions and getting their sympathy. A couple of them walked into his flat of their own accord. There was a van like Creeds seen speeding in the area, wasnt there? Yeah, said Layborn, and from what Dad told me it was never checked out properly. Talbot didnt want to hear that it might have been someone trying to get home for their tea, see. Routine work just wasnt done. For instance, I heard there was an old boyfriend of Bamboroughs hanging around. Im not saying the boyfriend killed her, but Dad told me Talbot spent half the interview trying to find out where this boyfriend had been on the night Helen Wardrop got attacked. Who? Prostitute. Creed tried to abduct her in 73. He had his failures, you know. Peggy Hiskett, she got away from him and gave the police a description in 71, but that didnt help them much. She said he was dark and stocky, because he was wearing a wig at the time and all padded out in a womans coat. They caught him in the end because of Melody Bower. Nightclub singer, looked like Diana Ross. Creed got chatting to her at a bus stop, offered her a lift, then tried to drag her into the van when she said no. She escaped, gave the police a proper description and told them hed said his house was off Paradise Park. He got careless toward the end. Arrogance did for him. You know a lot about this, George. Yeah, well, Dad was one of the first into Creeds basement after they arrested him. He wouldnt ever talk about what he saw in there, and hed seen gangland killings, you name it Creeds never admitted to Bamborough, but that doesnt mean he didnt do it. That cunt will keep people guessing till hes dead. Evil fucking bastard. Hes played with the families of his known victims for years. Likes hinting he did more women, without giving any details. Some journalist interviewed him in the early eighties, but that was the last time they let anyone talk to him. The Ministry of Justice clamped down. Creed uses publicity as a chance to torment the families. Its the only power hes got left. Layborn drained the last of his pint and checked his watch. Ill do what I can for you with the file. My old man wouldve wanted me to help. It never sat right with him, what happened with that case. The wind was picking up by the time Strike returned to his attic flat. His rain-speckled windows rattled in their loose frames as he sorted carefully through the receipts in his wallet for those he needed to submit to the accountant. At nine oclock, after eating dinner cooked on his single-ringed hob, he lay down on his bed and picked up the second-hand biography of Dennis Creed, The Demon of Paradise Park, which hed ordered a month ago and which had so far lain unopened on his bedside table. Having undone the button on his trousers to better accommodate the large amount of spaghetti hed just consumed, he emitted a loud and satisfying belch, lit a cigarette, laid back against his pillows and opened the book to the beginning, where a timeline laid out the bare bones of Creeds long career of rape and murder. 1937: Born in Greenwell Terrace, Mile End. 1954: April: began National Service. November: raped schoolgirl Vicky Hornchurch, 15. Sentenced to 2 years, Feltham Borstal. 195561: Worked in a variety of short-lived manual and office jobs. Frequented prostitutes. 1961: July: raped and tortured shop assistant Sheila Gaskins, 22. Sentenced to 5 years HMP Pentonville. 1968: April: abducted, raped, tortured and murdered schoolgirl Geraldine Christie, 16. 1969: September: abducted, raped, tortured and murdered secretary and mother of one Jackie Aylett, 29. Killer dubbed The Essex Butcher by press. 1970: January: moved to Vi Hoopers basement in Liverpool Road, near Paradise Park. Gained job as dry-cleaning delivery man. February: abducted dinner lady and mother of three Vera Kenny, 31. Kept in basement for three weeks. Raped, tortured and murdered. November: abducted estate agent Noreen Sturrock, 28. Kept in basement for four weeks. Raped, tortured and murdered. 1971: August: failed to abduct pharmacist Peggy Hiskett, 34. 1972: September: abducted unemployed Gail Wrightman, 30. Kept imprisoned in basement. Raped and tortured. 1973: January: murdered Wrightman. December: failed to abduct prostitute and mother of one Helen Wardrop, 32. 1974: September: abducted hairdresser Susan Meyer, 27. Kept imprisoned in basement. Raped and tortured. 1975: February: abducted PhD student Andrea Hooton, 23. Hooton and Meyer were held concurrently in basement for 4 weeks. March: murdered Susan. April: murdered Andrea. 1976: January 25th: attempted to abduct nightclub singer Melody Bower, 26. January 31st: landlady Vi Hooper recognizes Creed from description and photofit. February 2nd: Creed arrested. Strike turned over the page and skim-read the introduction, which featured the only interview ever granted by Creeds mother, Agnes Waite. She began by telling me that the date given on Creeds birth certificate was false. It says he was born December 20th, doesnt it? she asked me. Thats not right. It was the night of November 19th. He lied about it when he registered the birth, because we were outside the time you were supposed to do it. He was Agness stepfather, William Awdry, a man notorious in the local area for his violent temper He took the baby out of my arms as soon as Id had it and said he was going to kill it. Drown it in the outside toilet. I begged him not to. I pleaded with him to let the baby live. I hadnt known till then whether I wanted it to live or die, but once youve seen them, held them and he was strong, Dennis, he wanted to live, you could tell. It went on for weeks, the threats, Awdry threatening to kill him. But by then the neighbors had heard the baby crying and probably heard what [Awdry] was threatening, as well. He knew there was no hiding it; hed waited too long. So he registered the birth, but lied about the date, so nobody would ask why hed done it so late. There wasnt nobody to say it had happened earlier, not anybody whod count. They never got me a midwife or a nurse or anything Creed often wrote me fuller answers than wed had time for during face-to-face interviews. Months later he sent me the following, concerning his own suspicions about his paternity: I saw my supposed step-grandfather looking at me out of the mirror. The resemblance grew stronger as I got older. I had his eyes, the same shaped ears, his sallow complexion, his long neck. He was a bigger man than I was, a more masculine-looking man, and I think part of his great dislike of me came from the fact that he hated to see his own features in a weak and girlish form. He despised vulnerability Yeah, of course Dennis was his, Agnes told me. He [Awdry] started on me when I was thirteen. I was never allowed out, never had a boyfriend. When my mother realized I was expecting, Awdry told her Id been sneaking out to meet someone. What else was he going to say? And Mum believed him. Or she pretended to. Agnes fled her stepfathers overcrowded house shortly before Denniss second birthday, when she was sixteen-and-a-half. I wanted to take Dennis with me, but I left in the middle of the night and I couldnt afford to make noise. I had nowhere to go, no job, no money. Just a boyfriend who said hed look after me. So I went. She was to see her firstborn only twice more. When she found out William Awdry was serving nine months in jail for assault, she returned to her mothers house in hopes of snatching Dennis away. I was going to tell Bert [her first husband] he was my nephew, because Bert didnt know anything about that whole mess. But Dennis didnt remember me, I dont think. He wouldnt let go of my mum, wouldnt talk to me, and my mum told me it was too late now and I shouldnt have left him if I wanted him so bad. So I went away without him. The last time Agnes saw her son in the flesh was when she made a trip to his primary school and called him over to the fence to speak to her. Though he was barely five, Creed claimed in our second interview to remember this final meeting. She was a thin, plain little woman, dressed like a tart, he told me. She didnt look like the other boys mothers. You could tell she wasnt a respectable person. I didnt want the other children to see me talking to her. She said she was my mother and I told her it wasnt true, but I knew it was, really. I ran away from her. He didnt want nothing to do with me, said Agnes. I gave up after that. I wasnt going to go to the house if Awdry was there. Dennis was in school, at least. He looked clean I used to wonder about him, how he was and that, Agnes said. Obviously, you do. Kids come out of you. Men dont understand what that is. Yeah, I used to wonder, but I moved north with Bert when he got the job with the GPO and I never went back to London, not even when my mum died, because Awdry had put it about that if I turned up hed kick off. When I told Agnes Id met Dennis a mere week before visiting her in Romford, she had only one point of curiosity. They say hes very clever, is he? I told her that he was, undoubtedly, very clever. It was the one point on which all his psychiatrists agreed. Warders told me he read extensively, especially books of psychology. I dont know where he got that from. Not me I read it all in the papers. I saw him on the news, heard everything he did. Terrible, just terrible. What would make a person do that? After the trial was over, I thought back to him, all naked and bloody on the lino where Id had him, with my stepfather standing over us, threatening to drown him, and I swear to you now, said Agnes Waite, I wish Id let it happen. Strike stubbed out his cigarette and reached for the can of Tennents sitting beside the ashtray. A light rain pattered against his windows as he flicked a little further on in the book, pausing midway through chapter two. grandmother, Ena, was unwilling or unable to protect the youngest member of the household from her husbands increasingly sadistic punishments. Awdry took a particular satisfaction in humiliating Dennis for his persistent bedwetting. His step-grandfather would pour a bucket of water over his bed, then force the boy to sleep in it. Creed recalled several occasions on which he was forced to walk to the corner shop without trousers, but still wearing sodden pajama bottoms, to buy Awdry cigarettes. One took refuge in fantasy, Creed wrote to me later. Inside my head I was entirely free and happy. But there were, even then, props in the material world that I enjoyed incorporating into my secret life. Items that attained a totemic power in my fantasies. By the age of twelve, Dennis had discovered the pleasures of voyeurism. It excited me, he wrote, after our third interview, to watch a woman who didnt know she was being observed. Id do it to my sisters, but Id creep up to lit windows as well. If I got lucky, Id see women or girls undressing, adjusting themselves or even a glimpse of nudity. I was aroused not only by the obviously sensual aspects, but by the sense of power. I felt I stole something of their essence from them, taking that which they thought private and hidden. He soon progressed to stealing womens underwear from neighbors washing lines and even from his grandmother, Ena. These he enjoying wearing in secret, and masturbating in Yawning, Strike flicked on, coming to rest on a passage in chapter four. a quiet member of the mailroom staff at Fleetwood Electric, who astonished his colleagues when, on a works night out, he donned the coat of a female co-worker to imitate singer Kay Starr. There was little Dennis, belting out Wheel of Fortune in Jennys coat, an anonymous workmate told the press after Creeds arrest. It made some of the older men uncomfortable. A couple of them thought he was, you know, queer, after. But the younger ones, we all cheered him like anything. He came out of his shell a bit after that. But Creeds secret fantasy life didnt center on a life of amateur theatrics or pub singing. Unbeknownst to anyone watching the tipsy sixteen-year-old onstage, his elaborate fantasies were becoming ever more sadistic Colleagues at Fleetwood Electric were appalled when little Dennis was arrested for the rape and torture of Sheila Gaskins, 22, a shop assistant whom hed followed off a late night bus. Gaskins, who survived the attack only because Creed was scared away by a nightwatchman who heard sounds down an alleyway, was able to provide evidence against him. Convicted, he served five years in HMP Pentonville. This was the last time Creed would give way to sudden impulse. Strike paused to light himself a fresh cigarette, then flicked ten chapters on through the book, until a familiar name caught his eye. Dr. Margot Bamborough, a Clerkenwell GP, on October 11th 1974. DI Bill Talbot, who headed the investigation, immediately noted suspicious similarities between the disappearance of the young GP and those of Vera Kenny and Gail Wrightman. Both Kenny and Wrightman had been abducted on rainy nights, when the presence of umbrellas and rainwashed windscreens provided handy impediments to would-be witnesses. There was a heavy downpour on the evening Margot Bamborough disappeared. A small van with what were suspected to be fake number plates had been seen in both Kennys and Wrightmans vicinities shortly before they vanished. Three separate witnesses came forward to say that a small white van of similar appearance had been seen speeding away from the vicinity of Margot Bamboroughs practice that night. Still more suggestive was the eyewitness account of a driver who saw two women in the street, one of whom seemed to be infirm or faint, the other supporting her. Talbot at once made the connection both with the drunk Vera Kenny, whod been seen getting into a van with what appeared to be another woman, and the testimony of Peggy Hiskett, whod reported the man dressed as a woman at a lonely bus stop, whod tried to persuade her to drink a bottle of beer with him, becoming aggressive before, fortunately, she managed to attract the attention of a passing car. Convinced that Bamborough had fallen victim to the serial killer now dubbed the Essex Butcher, Talbot Strikes mobile rang. Trying not to lose his page, Strike groped for it and answered it without looking at the callers identity. Strike. Hello, Bluey, said a woman, softly. Strike set the book on the bed, pages down. There was a pause, in which he could hear Charlotte breathing. What dyou want? To talk to you, she said. What about? I dont know, she half-laughed. You choose. Strike knew this mood. She was halfway into a bottle of wine or had perhaps enjoyed a couple of whiskies. There was a moment of drunkennessnot even of drunkenness, of alcohol-induced softeningwhere a Charlotte emerged who was endearing, even amusing, but not yet combative or maudlin. Hed asked himself once, toward the end of their engagement, when his own innate honesty was forcing him to face facts and ask hard questions, how realistic or healthy it was to wish for a wife forever very slightly drunk. You didnt call me back, said Charlotte. I left a message with your Robin. Didnt she give it to you? Yeah, she gave it to me. But you didnt call. What dyou want, Charlotte? The sane part of his brain was telling him to end the call, but still he held the phone to his ear, listening, waiting. Shed been like a drug to him for a long time: a drug, or a disease. Interesting, said Charlotte dreamily. I thought she might have decided not to pass on the message. He said nothing. Are the two of you together yet? Shes quite good-looking. And always there. On tap. So conven Why are you calling? Ive told you, I wanted to talk to you dyou know what day it is today? The twins first birthday. The entire famille Ross has turned up to fawn over them. This is the first moment Ive had to myself all day. He knew, of course, that shed had twins. Thered been an announcement in The Times, because shed married into an aristocratic family that routinely announced births, marriages and deaths in its columns, although Strike had not, in fact, read the news there. It was Ilsa whod passed the information on, and Strike had immediately remembered the words Charlotte had said to him, over a restaurant table she had tricked him into sharing with her, more than a year previously. All thats kept me going through this pregnancy is the thought that once Ive had them, I can leave. But the babies had been born prematurely and Charlotte had not left them. Kids come out of you. Men dont understand what that is. Thered been two previous tipsy phone calls to Strike like this one in the past year, both made late at night. Hed ended the first one mere seconds in, because Robin was trying to reach him. Charlotte had hung up abruptly a few minutes into the second. Nobody thought theyd live, did you know that? Charlotte said now. Its, she whispered, a miracle. If its your kids birthday, I should let you go, said Strike. Goodnight, Char Dont go, she said, suddenly urgent. Dont go, please dont. Hang up, said the voice in his head. He didnt. Theyre asleep, fast asleep. They dont know its their birthday, the whole things a joke. Commemorating the anniversary of that fucking nightmare. It was hideous, they cut me open Ive got to go, he said. Im busy. Please, she almost wailed. Bluey, Im so unhappy, you dont know, Im so fucking miserable Youre a married mother of two, he said brutally, and Im not an agony aunt. There are anonymous services you can call if you need them. Goodnight, Charlotte. He cut the call. The rain was coming down harder. It drummed on his dark windows. Dennis Creeds face was now the wrong way up on the cast-aside book. His light-lashed eyes seemed reversed in the upside-down face. The effect was unsettling, as though the eyes were alive in the photograph. Strike opened the book again and continued to read. 9 Faire Sir, of friendship let me now you pray, That as I late aduentured for your sake, The hurts whereof me now from battell stay, Ye will me now with like good turne repay. Edmund Spenser The Faerie Queene George Layborn still hadnt managed to lay hands on the Bamborough file when Robins birthday arrived. For the first time in her life, she woke on the morning of October the ninth, remembered what day it was and experienced no twinge of excitement, but a lowering sensation. She was twenty-nine years old today, and twenty-nine had an odd ring to it. The number seemed to signify not a landmark, but a staging post: Next stop: THIRTY. Lying alone for a few moments in her double bed in her rented bedroom, she remembered what her favorite cousin, Katie, had said during Robins last trip home, while Robin had been helping Katies two-year-old son make Play-Doh monsters to ride in his Tonka truck. Its like youre traveling in a different direction to the rest of us. Then, seeing something in Robins face that made her regret her words, Katie had hastily added, I dont mean it in a bad way! You seem really happy. Free, I mean! Honestly, Katie had said, with hollow insincerity, I really envy you sometimes. Robin hadnt known a seconds regret for the termination of a marriage that, in its final phase, had made her deeply unhappy. She could still conjure up the mood, mercifully not experienced since, in which all color seemed drained from her surroundingsand they had been pretty surroundings, too: she knew that the sea captains house in Deptford where she and Matthew had finally parted had been a most attractive place, yet it was strange how few details she could remember about it now. All she could recall with any clarity was the deadened mood shed suffered within those walls, the perpetual feelings of guilt and dread, and the dawning horror which accompanied the realization that she had shackled herself to somebody whom she didnt like, and with whom she had next to nothing in common. Nevertheless, Katies blithe description of Robins current life as happy and free wasnt entirely accurate. For several years now, Robin had watched Strike prioritize his working life over everything elsein fact, Joans diagnosis had been the first occasion shed known him to reallocate his jobs, and make something other than detection his top concernand these days Robin, too, felt herself becoming taken over by the job, which she found satisfying to the point that it became almost all-consuming. Finally living what shed wanted ever since she first walked through the glass door of Strikes office, she now understood the potential for loneliness that came with a single, driving passion. Having sole possession of her bed had been a great pleasure at first: nobody sulking with their back to her, nobody complaining that she wasnt pulling her weight financially, or droning on about his promotion prospects; nobody demanding sex that had become a chore rather than a pleasure. Nevertheless, while she missed Matthew not at all, she could envisage a time (if she was honest, was perhaps already living it) when the lack of physical contact, of affection and even of sexwhich for Robin was a more complicated prospect than for many womenwould become, not a boon, but a serious absence in her life. And then what? Would she become like Strike, with a succession of lovers relegated firmly to second place, after the job? No sooner had she thought this than she found herself wondering, as shed done almost daily since, whether her partner had called Charlotte Campbell back. Impatient with herself, she threw back the covers and, ignoring the packages lying on top of her chest of drawers, went to take a shower. Her new home in Finborough Road occupied the top two floors of a terraced house. The bedrooms and bathroom were on the third floor, the public rooms on the fourth. A small terraced area lay off the sitting room, where the owners elderly rough-coated dachshund, Wolfgang, liked to lie outside on sunny days. Robin, who was under no illusions about property available in London for single women on an average wage, especially one with legal bills to pay, considered herself immensely fortunate to be living in a clean, well-maintained and tastefully decorated flat, with a double room to herself and a flatmate she liked. Her live-in landlord was a forty-two-year-old actor called Max Priestwood, who couldnt afford to run the place without a tenant. Max, who was gay, was what Robins mother would have called ruggedly handsome: tall and broad-shouldered, with a full head of thick, dark blond hair and a perpetually weary look about his gray eyes. He was also an old friend of Ilsas, whod been at university with his younger brother. In spite of Ilsas assurances that Max is absolutely lovely, Robin had spent the first few months of her tenancy wondering whether shed made a huge mistake in moving in with him, because he seemed sunk in what seemed perpetual gloom. Robin tried her very best to be a good flatmate: she was naturally tidy, she never played music loudly or cooked anything very smelly; she made a fuss of Wolfgang and remembered to feed him if Max was out; she was punctilious when it came to replacing washing-up liquid and toilet roll; and she made a point of being polite and cheery whenever they came into contact, yet Max rarely if ever smiled, and when she first arrived, hed seemed to find it an immense effort to talk to her. Feeling paranoid, Robin had wondered at first whether Ilsa had strong-armed Max into accepting her as a tenant. Conversation had become slightly easier between them over the months of her tenancy, yet Max was never loquacious. Sometimes Robin was grateful for this monosyllabic tendency, because when she came in after working a twelve-hour stretch of surveillance, stiff and tired, her mind fizzing with work concerns, the last thing she wanted was small talk. At other times, when she might have preferred to go upstairs to the open-plan living area, she kept to her room rather than feel she was intruding upon Maxs private space. She suspected the main reason for Maxs perennially low mood was his state of persistent unemployment. Since the West End play in which he had had a small part had ended four months ago, he hadnt managed to get another job. Shed learned quickly not to ask him whether he had any auditions lined up. Sometimes, even saying How was your day? sounded unnecessarily judgmental. She knew hed previously shared his flat with a long-term boyfriend, who by coincidence was also called Matthew. Robin knew nothing about Maxs break-up except that his Matthew had signed over his half of the flat to Max voluntarily, which to Robin seemed remarkably generous compared with the behavior of her own ex-husband. Having showered, Robin pulled on a dressing gown and returned to her bedroom to open the packages that had arrived in the post over the past few days, and which shed saved for this morning. She suspected her mother had bought the aromatherapy bath oils that were ostensibly from her brother Martin, that her veterinarian sister-in-law (who was currently pregnant with Robins first niece or nephew) had chosen the homespun sweater, which was very much Jennys own style, and that her brother Jonathan had a new girlfriend, whod probably chosen the dangly earrings. Feeling slightly more depressed than she had before shed opened the presents, Robin dressed herself all in black, which could take her through a day of paperwork at the office, a catch-up meeting with the weatherman whom Postcard was persecuting, all the way to birthday drinks that evening with Ilsa and Vanessa, her policewoman friend. Ilsa had suggested inviting Strike, and Robin had said that she would prefer it to be girls only, because she was trying to avoid any further occasions on which Ilsa might try and matchmake. On the point of leaving her room, Robins eye fell on a copy of The Demon of Paradise Park which she, like Strike, had bought online. Her copy was slightly more battered than his and had taken longer to arrive. She hadnt yet read much of it, partly because she was generally too tired of an evening to do anything other than fall into bed, but partly because what she had read had already caused a slight recurrence of the psychological symptoms she had carried with her ever since her forearm had been sliced open one dark night. Today, however, she stuffed it into her bag to read on the Tube. A text from her mother arrived while Robin was walking to the station, wishing her a happy birthday and telling her to check her email account. This she did, and saw that her parents had sent her a one-hundred-and-fifty-pound voucher for Selfridges. This was a most welcome gift, because Robin had virtually no disposable income left, once her legal bills, rent and other living expenses had been paid, to spend on anything that might be considered self-indulgent. Feeling slightly more cheerful as she settled into a corner of the train, Robin took The Demon of Paradise Park from her bag and opened it to the page she had last reached. The coincidence of the first line caused her an odd inward tremor. Chapter 5 Little though he realized it, Dennis Creed was released from prison on his true 29th birthday, 19th November, 1966. His grandmother, Ena, had died while he was in Brixton and there was no question of him returning to live with his step-grandfather. He had no close friends to call on, and anyone who might have been well disposed to him prior to his second rape conviction was, unsurprisingly, in no rush to meet or help him. Creed spent his first night as a free man in a hostel near Kings Cross. After a week sleeping in hostels or on park benches, Creed managed to find himself a single room in a boarding house. For the next four years, Creed would move between a series of rundown rooms and short-term, cash-in-hand jobs, interspersed with periods of rough living. He admitted to me later that he frequented prostitutes a good deal at this time, but in 1968 he killed his first victim. Schoolgirl Geraldine Christie was walking home Robin skipped the next page and a half. She had no particular desire to read the particulars of the harm Creed had visited upon Geraldine Christie. until finally, in 1970, Creed secured himself a permanent home in the basement rooms of the boarding house run by Violet Cooper, a fifty-year-old ex-theater dresser who, like his grandmother, was an incipient alcoholic. This now demolished house would, in time, become infamous as Creeds torture chamber. A tall, narrow building of grubby brick, it lay in Liverpool Road, close to Paradise Park. Creed presented Cooper with forged references, which she didnt bother to follow up, and claimed hed recently been dismissed from a bar job, but that a friend had promised him employment in a nearby restaurant. Asked by defending counsel at his trial why shed been happy to rent a room to an unemployed man of no fixed abode, Cooper replied that she was tender-hearted and that Creed seemed a sweet boy, bit lost and lonely. Her decision to rent, first a room, then the entire basement, to Dennis Creed, would cost Violet Cooper dearly. In spite of her insistence during the trial that she had no idea what was happening in the basement of her boarding house, suspicion and opprobrium have been attached to the name Violet Cooper ever since. She has now adopted a new identity, which I agreed not to disclose. I thought he was a pansy, Cooper says today. Id seen a bit of it in the theater. I felt sorry for him, thats the truth. A plump woman whose face has been ravaged by both time and drink, she admits that she and Creed quickly struck up a close friendship. At times during our conversation she seemed to forget that young Den who spent many evenings with her upstairs in her private sitting room, both of them tipsy and singing along to her collection of records, was the serial killer who dwelled in her basement. I wrote to him, you know, she says. After he was convicted. I said, If you ever felt anything for me, if any of it was real, tell me whether you did any of them other women. Youve got nothing to lose now, Den, I says, and you could put peoples minds at rest. But the letter Creed wrote back admitted nothing. Sick, he is. I realized it, then. Hed just copied out the lyrics from an old Rosemary Clooney song we used to sing together, Come On-A My House. You know the oneCome on-a my house, my house, Im-a gonna give you candy I knew then he hated me as much as he hated all them other women. Taunting me, he was. However, back in 1970, when Creed first moved into her basement, hed been keen to ingratiate himself with his landlady, who admits he swiftly became a combination of son and confidant. Violet persuaded her friend Beryl Gould, who owned a dry-cleaners, to give young Den a job as a delivery man, and this gave him access to the small van that would soon become notorious in the press Twenty minutes after boarding the train, Robin got out at Leicester Square. As she emerged into daylight, her mobile phone vibrated in her pocket. She pulled it out and saw a text from Strike. Drawing aside from the crowd emerging from the station, she opened it. News: Ive found Dr. Dinesh Gupta, GP who worked with Margot at the Clerkenwell Practice in 1974. Hes 80-odd but sounds completely compos mentis and is happy to meet me this afternoon at his house in Amersham. Currently watching Twinkletoes having breakfast in Soho. Ill get Barclay to take over from me at lunchtime and go straight to Guptas. Any chance you could put off your meeting with Weatherman and come along? Robins heart sank. Shed already had to change the time of the weathermans catch-up meeting once and felt it unfair to do so a second time, especially at such short notice. However, shed have liked to meet Dr. Dinesh Gupta. I cant mess him around again, she typed back. Let me know how it goes. Right you are, replied Strike. Robin watched her mobile screen for a few more seconds. Strike had forgotten her birthday last year, realizing his omission a week late and buying her flowers. Given that hed seemed to feel guilty about the oversight, shed imagined that he might make a note of the date and perhaps set an alert on his mobile this year. However, no Happy birthday, by the way! appeared, so she put her mobile back in her pocket and, unsmiling, walked on toward the office. 10 And if by lookes one may the mind aread, He seemd to be a sage and sober syre Edmund Spenser The Faerie Queene You are thinking, said the small, spectacled, elderly doctor, who was dwarfed by both his suit and his upright armchair, that I look like Gandhi. Strike, whod been thinking exactly that, was surprised into a laugh. The eighty-one-year-old doctor appeared to have shrunk inside his suit; the collar and cuffs of his shirt gaped and his ankles were skinny in their black silk socks. Tufts of white hair appeared both in and over his ears, and he wore horn-rimmed spectacles. The strongest features in his genial brown face were the aquiline nose and dark eyes, which alone appeared to have escaped the aging process, and were as bright and knowing as a wrens. No speck of dust marred the highly polished coffee table between them, in what bore the appearance of a seldom-used, special occasion room. The deep gold of wallpaper, sofa and chairs glowed, pristine, in the autumn sunshine diffused by the net curtains. Four gilt-framed photographs hung in pairs on the wall on either side of the fringed drapes. Each picture showed a different dark-haired young woman, all wearing mortarboards and gowns, and holding degree certificates. Mrs. Gupta, a tiny, slightly deaf, gray-haired woman, had already told Strike what degrees each of her daughters had takentwo medicine, one modern languages and one computingand how well each was doing in her chosen career. Shed also shown him pictures of the six grandchildren she and her husband had been blessed with so far. Only the youngest girl remained childless, but she will have them, said Mrs. Gupta, with a Joan-ish certainty. Shell never be happy without. Having provided Strike and her husband with tea served in china cups, and a plate of fig rolls, Mrs. Gupta retreated to the kitchen, where Escape to the Country was playing with the sound turned up high. As it happens, my father met Gandhi as a young man when Gandhi visited London in 1931, said Dr. Gupta, selecting a fig roll. He, too, had studied law in London, you see, but a while after Gandhi. But ours was a wealthier family. Unlike Gandhi, my father could afford to bring his wife to England with him. My parents decided to remain in the UK after Daddy qualified as a barrister. So my immediate family missed partition. Very fortunate for us. My grandparents and two of my aunts were killed as they attempted to leave East Bengal. Massacred, said Dr. Gupta, and both my aunts were raped before being killed. Im sorry, said Strike, who, not having anticipated the turn the conversation had taken, had frozen in the act of opening his notebook and now sat feeling slightly foolish, his pen poised. My father, said Dr. Gupta, nodding gently as he munched his fig roll, carried the guilt with him to his grave. He thought he should have been there to protect them all, or to have died alongside them. Now, Margot didnt like hearing the truth about partition, said Dr. Gupta. We all wanted independence, naturally, but the transition was handled very badly, very badly indeed. Nearly three million went missing. Rapes. Mutilation. Families torn asunder. Dreadful mistakes made. Appalling acts committed. Margot and I had an argument about it. A friendly argument, of course, he added, smiling. But Margot romanticized uprisings of people in distant lands. She didnt judge brown rapists and torturers by the same standards she would have applied to white men who drowned children for being the wrong religion. She believed, I think, like Suhrawardy, that bloodshed and disorder are not necessarily evil in themselves, if resorted to for a noble cause. Dr. Gupta swallowed his biscuit and added, It was Suhrawardy, of course, who incited the Great Calcutta Killings. Four thousand dead in a single day. Strike allowed a respectful pause to fill the room, broken only by the distant sound of Escape to the Country. When no further mention of bloodshed and terror was forthcoming, he took the opening that had been offered to him. Did you like Margot? Oh yes, said Dinesh Gupta, still smiling. Although I found some of her beliefs and her attitudes shocking. I was born into a traditional, though Westernized, family. Before Margot and I went into practice together, I had never been in daily proximity to a self-proclaimed liberated lady. My friends at medical school, and the partners in my previous practice, had all been men. A feminist, was she? Oh, very much so, said Gupta, smiling. She would tease me about what she thought were my regressive attitudes. She was a great improver of people, Margotwhether they wished to be improved or not, said Gupta, with a little laugh. She volunteered at the WEA, too. The Workers Educational Association, you know? Shed come from a poor family, and she was a great proponent of adult education, especially for women. She would certainly have approved of my girls, said Dinesh Gupta, turning in his armchair to point at the four graduation photographs behind him. Jheel still laments that we had no son, but I have no complaints. No complaints, he repeated, turning back to face Strike. I understand from the General Medical Council records, said Strike, that there was a third GP at the St. Johns practice, a Dr. Joseph Brenner. Is that right? Dr. Brenner, yes, quite right, said Gupta. I doubt hes still alive, poor fellow. Hed be over a hundred now. Hed worked alone in the area for many years before he came in with us at the new practice. He brought with him Dorothy Oakden, whod done his typing for twenty-odd years. She became our practice secretary. An older ladyor so she seemed to me at the time, said Gupta, with another small chuckle. I dont suppose she was more than fifty. Married late and widowed not long afterward. I have no idea what became of her. Who else worked at the practice? Well, lets see there was Janice Beattie, the district nurse, who was the best nurse I ever worked with. An Eastender by birth. Like Margot, she understood the privations of poverty from personal experience. Clerkenwell at that time was by no means as smart as its become since. I still receive Christmas cards from Janice. I dont suppose you have her address? asked Strike. Its possible, said Dr. Gupta. Ill ask Jheel. He made to get up. Later, after weve talked, will be fine, said Strike, afraid to break the chain of reminiscence. Please, go on. Who else worked at St. Johns? Lets see, lets see, said Dr. Gupta again, sinking slowly back into his chair. We had two receptionists, young women, but Im afraid Ive lost touch with both of them now, what were their names Would that be Gloria Conti and Irene Bull? asked Strike, whod found both names in old press reports. A blurry photograph of both young women had shown a slight, dark girl and what he thought was probably a peroxide blonde, both of them looking distressed to be photographed as they entered the practice. The accompanying article in the Daily Express quoted Irene Bull, receptionist, aged 25, as saying Its terrible. We dont know anything. Were still hoping shell come back. Maybe shes lost her memory or something. Gloria was mentioned in every press report hed read, because shed been the last known person to see Margot alive. She just said Night, Gloria, see you tomorrow. She seemed normal, well, a bit tired, it was the end of the day and wed had an emergency patient whod kept her longer than she expected. She was a bit late to meet her friend. She put up her umbrella in the doorway and left. Gloria and Irene, said Dr. Gupta, nodding. Yes, thats right. They were both young, so they should still be with us, but Im afraid I havent the faintest idea where they are now. Is that everyone? asked Strike. Yes, I think so. No, wait, said Gupta, holding up a hand. There was the cleaner. A West Indian lady. What was her name, now? He screwed up his face. Im afraid I cant remember. The existence of a practice cleaner was new information to Strike. His own office had always been cleaned by him or by Robin, although lately, Pat had pitched in. He wrote down Cleaner, West Indian. How old was she, can you remember? I really couldnt tell you, said Gupta. He added delicately, Black ladiesthey are much harder to age, arent they? They look younger for longer. But I think she had several children, so not very young. Mid-thirties? he suggested hopefully. So, three doctors, a secretary, two receptionists, a practice nurse and a cleaner? Strike summarized. Thats right. We had, said Dr. Gupta, all the ingredients of a successful businessbut it was an unhappy practice, Im afraid. Unhappy from the start. Really? said Strike, interested. Why was that? Personal chemistry, said Gupta promptly. The older Ive grown, the more Ive realized that the team is everything. Qualifications and experience are important, but if the team doesnt gel He interlocked his bony fingers, forget it! Youll never achieve what you should. And so it was at St. Johns. Which was a pity, a very great pity, because we had potential. The practice was popular with ladies, who usually prefer consulting members of their own sex. Margot and Janice were both well liked. But there were internal divisions from the beginning. Dr. Brenner joined us for the conveniences of a newer practice building, but he never acted as though he was part of the team. In fact, over time he became openly hostile to some of us. Specifically, who was he hostile to? asked Strike, guessing the answer. Im afraid, said Dr. Gupta, sadly, he didnt like Margot. To be quite frank, I dont think Joseph Brenner liked ladies. He was rude to the girls on reception, as well. Of course, they were easier to bully than Margot. I think he respected Janiceshe was very efficient, you know, and less combative than Margotand he was always polite to Dorothy, who was fiercely loyal to him. But he took against Margot from the start. Why was that, do you think? Oh, said Dr. Gupta, raising his hands and letting them fall in a gesture of hopelessness, the truth is that Margotnow, I liked her, you understand, our discussions were always good-humoredbut she was a Marmite sort of person. Dr. Brenner was no feminist. He thought a womans place was at home with her children, and Margot leaving a baby at home and coming back out to work full time, he disapproved of that. Team meetings were very uncomfortable. Hed wait for Margot to start talking and then talk over her, very loudly. He was something of a bully, Brenner. He thought our receptionists were no better than they should be. Complained about their skirt lengths, their hairstyles. But actually, although he was especially rude to ladies, its my opinion that he didnt really like people. Odd, said Strike. For a doctor. Oh, said Gupta, with a chuckle, thats by no means as unusual as you might think, Mr. Strike. We doctors are like everybody else. It is a popular myth that all of us must love humanity in the round. The irony is that our biggest liability as a practice was Brenner himself. He was an addict! Really? Barbiturates, said Gupta. Barbiturates, yes. A doctor couldnt get away with it these days, but he over-ordered them in massive quantities. Kept them in a locked cupboard in his consulting room. He was a very difficult man. Emotionally shut down. Unmarried. And this secret addiction. Did you talk to him about it? asked Strike. No, said Gupta sadly. I put off doing so. I wanted to be sure of my ground before I broached the subject. From quiet inquiries I made, I suspected that he was still using his old practice address in addition to ours, doubling his order and using multiple pharmacies. It was going to be tricky to prove what he was up to. I might never have realized if Janice hadnt come to me and said shed happened to walk in on him when his cupboard was open, and seen the quantities hed amassed. She then admitted that shed found him slumped at his desk in a groggy state one evening after the last patient had left. I dont think it ever affected his judgment, though. Not really. Id noticed that at the end of the day he might have been a little glazed, and so on, but he was nearing retirement. I assumed he was tired. Did Margot know about this addiction? asked Strike. No, said Gupta, I didnt tell her, although I should have done. She was my partner and the person I ought to have confided in, so we could decide what to do. But I was afraid shed storm straight into Dr. Brenners consulting room and confront him. Margot wasnt a woman to back away from doing what she thought was right, and I did sometimes wish that she would exercise a little more tact. The fallout from a confrontation with Brenner was likely to be severe. Delicacy was requiredafter all, we had no absolute proofbut then Margot went missing, and Dr. Brenners barbiturate habit became the least of our worries. Did you and Brenner continue working together after Margot disappeared? asked Strike. For a few months, yes, but he retired not long afterward. I continued to work at St. Johns for a short while, then got a job at another practice. I was glad to go. The St. Johns practice was full of bad associations. How would you describe Margots relationships with the other people at work? Strike asked. Well, lets see, said Gupta, taking a second fig roll. Dorothy the secretary never liked her, but I think that was out of loyalty to Dr. Brenner. As I say, Dorothy was a widow. She was one of those fierce women who attach themselves to an employer they can defend and champion. Whenever Margot or I displeased or challenged Joseph in any way, our letters and reports were sure to go straight to the bottom of the typing pile. It was a joke between us. No computers in those days, Mr. Strike. Nothing like nowadaysAisha, he said, indicating the top right-hand picture on the wall behind him, she types everything herself, a computer in her consulting room, everything computerized, which is much more efficient, but we were at the mercy of the typist for all our letters and reports. No, Dorothy didnt like Margot. Civil, but cold. Although, said Gupta, who had evidently just remembered something, Dorothy did come to the barbecue, which was a surprise. Margot held a barbecue at her house one Sunday, the summer before she disappeared, he explained. She knew that we werent pulling together as a team, so she invited us all around to her house. The barbecue was supposed to and, wordlessly this time, he again illustrated the point by interlacing his fingers. I remember being surprised that Dorothy attended, because Brenner had declined. Dorothy brought her son, who was thirteen or fourteen, I think. She must have given birth late, especially for the seventies. A boisterous boy. I remember Margots husband telling him off for smashing a valuable bowl. A fleeting memory of his nephew Luke carelessly treading on Strikes new headphones in St. Mawes crossed the detectives mind. Margot and her husband had a very nice house out in Ham. The husband was a doctor too, a hematologist. Big garden. Jheel and I took our girls, but as Brenner didnt go, and Dorothy was offended by Margots husband telling off her son, Margots objective wasnt achieved, Im afraid. The divisions remained entrenched. Did everyone else attend? Yes, I think so. Nowait. I dont think the cleaning lady Wilma! said Dr. Gupta, looking delighted. Her name was Wilma! I had no idea I still knew it but her surname Im not even sure I knew it back then No, Wilma didnt come. But everyone else, yes. Janice brought her own little boyhe was younger than Dorothys and far better behaved, as I remember. My girls spent the afternoon playing badminton with the little Beattie boy. Was Janice married? Divorced. Her husband left her for another woman. She got on with it, raised her son alone. Women like Janice always do get on with it. Admirable. Her life wasnt easy when I knew her, but I believe she married again, later, and I was glad when I heard about it. Did Janice and Margot get along? Oh yes. They had the gift of being able to disagree without taking personal offense. Did they disagree often? No, no, said Gupta, but decisions must be made in a working environment. We wereor tried to bea democratic business No, Margot and Janice were able to have rational disagreements without taking offense. I think they liked and respected each other. Janice was hit hard by Margots disappearance. She told me the day I left the practice that a week hadnt passed since it happened that she hadnt dreamed about Margot. But none of us were ever quite the same afterward, said Dr. Gupta quietly. One does not expect a friend to vanish into thin air without leaving a single trace behind them. There is somethinguncanny about it. There is, agreed Strike. How did Margot get along with the two receptionists? Well, now, Irene, the older of the two, sighed Gupta, could be a handful. I remember her beingnot rude, but a little cheekyto Margot, at times. At the practice Christmas partyMargot organized that, as well, still trying to force us all to get along, you knowIrene had rather a lot to drink. I remember a slight contretemps, but I really couldnt tell you what it was all about. I doubt it was anything serious. They seemed as amicable as ever the next time I saw them. Irene was quite hysterical after Margot disappeared. There was a short pause. Some of that may have been theatrics, Gupta admitted, but the underlying distress was genuine, Im sure. Gloriapoor little Gloria she was devastated. Margot was more than an employer to Gloria, you know. She was something of an older sister figure, a mentor. It was Margot who wanted to hire her, even though Gloria had almost no relevant experience. And I must admit, said Gupta judiciously, she turned out to be a good appointment. Hard worker. Learned fast. You only had to correct her once. I believe she was from an impoverished background. I know Dorothy looked down on Gloria. She could be quite unkind. And what about Wilma, the cleaner? asked Strike, reaching the bottom of his list. How did she get on with Margot? Id be lying if I said I could remember, said Gupta. She was a quiet woman, Wilma. I never heard that they had any kind of problem. After a slight pause, he added, I hope Im not inventing things, but I seem to remember that Wilmas husband was something of a bad lot. I think Margot told me that Wilma ought to divorce him. I dont know whether she said that directly to Wilmas facethough she probably did, knowing Margot as a matter of fact, he continued, I heard, after I left the practice, that Wilma had been fired. There was an allegation of drinking at work. She always had a Thermos with her. But I may be misremembering that, so please dont set too much store by it. As I say, Id already left. The door to the sitting room opened. More tea? inquired Mrs. Gupta, and she removed the tray and the now-cooling teapot, telling Strike, who had risen to help her, to sit back down and not to be silly. When shed left, Strike said, Could I take you back to the day Margot disappeared, Dr. Gupta? Appearing to brace himself slightly, the little doctor said, Of course. But I must warn you: what I mostly remember about that day now is the account of it I gave the police at the time. Do you see? My actual memories are hazy. Mostly, I remember what I told the investigating officer. Strike thought this an unusually self-aware comment for a witness. Experienced in taking statements, he knew how wedded people became to the first account they gave, and that valuable information, discarded during that first edit, was often lost forever beneath the formalized version that now stood in for actual memory. Thats all right, he told Gupta. Whatever you can remember. Well, it was an entirely ordinary day, said Gupta. The only thing that was slightly different was that one of the girls on reception had a dental appointment and left at half past twoIrene, that was. We doctors were working as usual in our respective consulting rooms. Until half past two, both girls were on reception, and after Irene left, Gloria was there alone. Dorothy was at her desk until five, which was her regular departure time. Janice was at the practice until lunchtime, but off making house calls in the afternoon, which was quite routine. I saw Margot a couple of times in the back, where we had, not exactly a kitchen, but a sort of nook where we had a kettle and a fridge. She was pleased about Wilson. About who? Harold Wilson, said Gupta, smiling. Thered been a general election the day before. Labor got back in with a majority. Hed been leading a minority government since February, you see. Ah, said Strike. Right. I left at half past five, said Gupta. I said goodbye to Margot, whose door was open. Brenners door was closed. I assumed he was with a patient. Obviously, I cant speak with authority about what happened after I left, said Gupta, but I can tell you what the others told me. If you wouldnt mind, said Strike. Im particularly interested in the emergency patient who kept Margot late. Ah, said Gupta, now placing his fingertips together and nodding, you know about the mysterious dark lady. Everything I know about her came from little Gloria. We operated on a first-come, first-served basis at St. Johns. Registered patients came along and waited their turn, unless it was an emergency, of course. But this lady walked in off the street. She wasnt registered with the practice, but she had severe abdominal pain. Gloria told her to wait, then went to see whether Joseph Brenner would see her, because he was free, whereas Margot was still with her last registered patient of the day. Brenner made heavy weather of the request. While Gloria and Brenner were talking, Margot came out of her consulting room, seeing off her last patients, a mother and child, and offered to see the emergency herself as she was going from the practice to the pub with a friend, which was just up the road. Brenner, according to Gloria, said good of you or something like thatwhich was friendly, for Brennerand he put on his coat and hat and left. Gloria went back into the waiting room to tell the lady Margot would see her. The lady went into the consulting room and stayed there longer than Gloria expected. Fully twenty-five, thirty minutes, which took the time to a quarter past six, and Margot was supposed to be meeting her friend at six. At last the patient came out of the consulting room and left. Margot came out shortly afterward in her coat. She told Gloria that she was late for the pub, and asked Gloria to lock up. She walked out into the rain and was never seen again. The door of the sitting room opened and Mrs. Gupta reappeared with fresh tea. Again, Strike stood to help her, and was again shooed back into his chair. When shed left, Strike asked, Why did you call the last patient mysterious? Because she was unregistered, or? Oh, you didnt know about that business? said Gupta. No, no. Because there was much discussion afterward as to whether or not she was actually a lady. Smiling at Strikes look of surprise, he said, Brenner started it. Hed walked out past her and told the investigating officer that hed thought, on the brief impression he had of her, that she was a man and was surprised afterward to hear that she was female. Gloria said she was a thickset young lady, darkgypsy-ish, was her wordnot a very politically correct term, but thats what Gloria said. Nobody else saw her, of course, so we couldnt judge. An appeal was put out for her, but nobody came forward, and in the absence of any information to the contrary, the investigating officer put a great deal of pressure on Gloria to say that she thought the patient was really a man in disguise, or at least, that she could have been mistaken in thinking she was a lady. But Gloria insisted that she knew a lady when she saw one. This officer being Bill Talbot? asked Strike. Precisely, said Gupta, reaching for his tea. Dyou think he wanted to believe the patient was a man dressed as a woman because Because Dennis Creed sometimes cross-dressed? Yes, said Gupta. Although we called him the Essex Butcher back then. We didnt know his real name until 1976. And the only physical description of the Butcher at the time said he was dark and squatI suppose I see why Talbot was suspicious but Strange for the Essex Butcher to walk into a doctors surgery in drag and wait his turn? Well quite, said Dr. Gupta. There was a brief silence while Gupta sipped tea and Strike flicked back through his notes, checking that he had asked everything he wanted to know. It was Gupta who spoke first. Have you met Roy? Margots husband? No, said Strike. Ive been hired by her daughter. How well did you know him? Only very slightly, said Gupta. He put the teacup down on the saucer. If ever Strike had seen a man with more to say, that man was Dinesh Gupta. What was your impression of him? asked Strike, surreptitiously clicking the nib back out of his pen. Spoiled, said Gupta. Very spoiled. A handsome man, whod been made a prince by his mother. We Indian boys know something about that, Mr. Strike. I met Roys mother at the barbecue I mentioned. She singled me out for conversation. A snob, I should say. She didnt consider receptionists or secretaries worth her time. I had the strong impression that she thought her son had married beneath him. Again, this opinion is not unknown among Indian mothers. Hes a hemophiliac, isnt he? asked Gupta. Not that Ive heard, said Strike, surprised. Yes, yes, said Gupta I think so, I think he is. He was a hematologist by profession, and his mother told me that he had chosen the specialty because of his own condition. You see? The clever, fragile little boy and the proud, overprotective mother. But then the little prince chose for a wife somebody utterly unlike his mother. Margot wasnt the kind of woman to leave her patients, or her adult learners, to rush home and cook Roys dinner for him. Let him get his own, would have been her attitude or the little cousin could have cooked, of course, Gupta went on, with something of the delicacy he had brought to the mention of black ladies. The young woman they paid to look after the baby. Was Cynthia at the barbecue? That was her name, was it? Yes, she was. I didnt talk to her. She was carrying Margots daughter around, while Margot mingled. Roy was interviewed by the police, I believe, said Strike, who in fact took this for granted rather than knowing it for certain. Oh yes, said Gupta. Now, that was a curious thing. Inspector Talbot told me at the start of my own police interview that Roy had been completely ruled out of their inquirieswhich Ive always thought was an odd thing to tell me. Dont you find it so? This was barely a week after Margots disappearance. I suppose it was only just dawning on us all that there really was no mistake, no innocent explanation. Wed all had our hopeful little theories in the first couple of days. Shed maybe felt stressed, unable to cope, and gone off alone somewhere. Or perhaps thered been an accident, and she was lying unconscious and unidentified in a hospital. But as the days went by, and the hospitals had been checked, and her photograph had been in all the papers and still there was no news, everything started to look more sinister. I found it most peculiar that Inspector Talbot informed me, unasked, that Roy wasnt under suspicion, that he had a complete alibi. Talbot struck all of us as peculiar, actually. Intense. His questions jumped around a lot. I think he was trying to reassure me, said Gupta, taking a third fig roll and examining it thoughtfully as he continued. He wanted me to know that my brother doctor was in the clear, that I had nothing to fear, that he knew no doctor could have done anything so terrible as to abduct a woman, orby then, we were all starting to fear itto kill her But Talbot thought it was Creed, of course, from the very startand he was probably right, sighed Gupta, sadly. What makes you think so? asked Strike. He thought Gupta might mention the speeding van or the rainy night, but the answer was, he thought, a shrewd one. Its very difficult to dispose of a body as completely and cleanly as Margots seems to have been hidden. Doctors know how death smells and we understand the legalities and procedures surrounding a dead human. The ignorant might imagine it is nothing more than disposing of a table of equivalent weight, but it is a very different thing, and a very difficult one. And even in the seventies, before DNA testing, the police did pretty well with fingerprints, blood groups and so forth. How has she remained hidden for so long? Somebody did the job very cleverly and if we know anything about Creed, its that hes very clever, isnt that so? It was living ladies who betrayed him in the end, not dead. He knew how to render his corpses mute. Gupta popped the end of the fig roll in his mouth, sighed, brushed his hands fastidiously clean of crumbs, then pointed at Strikes legs and said, Which one is it? Strike didnt resent the blunt question, from a doctor. This one, he said, shifting his right leg. You walk very naturally, said Gupta, for a big man. I might not have known, if I hadnt read about you in the press. The prosthetics were not nearly as good in the old days. Wonderful, what you can buy now. Hydraulics reproducing natural joint action! Marvelous. The NHS cant afford those fancy prosthetics, said Strike, slipping his notebook back into his pocket. Mines pretty basic. If its not too much trouble, he continued, could I ask you for the practice nurses current address? Yes, yes, of course, said Gupta. He succeeded in rising from his armchair on the third attempt. It took the Guptas half an hour to find, in an old address book, the last address they had for Janice Beattie. I cant swear its current, said Gupta, handing the slip of paper to Strike in the hall. Itll give me a head start on finding her, especially if shes got a different married name now, said Strike. Youve been very helpful, Dr. Gupta. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me. Of course, said Dr. Gupta, considering Strike with his shrewd, bright brown eyes, it would be a miracle if you found her, after all this time. But Im glad somebodys looking again. Yes, Im very glad somebodys looking. 11 It fortuned forth faring on his way, He saw from far, or seemed for to see Some troublous vprore or contentious fray Edmund Spenser The Faerie Queene Strike walked back toward Amersham station, past the box hedges and twin garages of the professional middle classes, thinking about Margot Bamborough. Shed emerged from the old doctors reminiscences as a vivid and forceful personality and, irrationally, this had been a surprise. In vanishing, Margot Bamborough had assumed in Strikes mind the insubstantiality of a wraith, as though it had always been predestined that she would one day disperse into the rainy dusk, never to return. He remembered the seven women depicted on the front cover of The Demon of Paradise Park. They lived on in ghostly black and white, sporting the hairstyles that had become gradually more unfashionable with every day theyd been absent from their families and their lives, but each of those negative images represented a human whose heart had once beaten, whose ambitions and opinions, triumphs and disappointments had been as real as Margot Bamboroughs, before they ran into the man who was paid the compliment of full color in the cover photograph of the dreadful story of their deaths. Strike still hadnt finished the book, but knew that Creed had been responsible for the deaths of a diverse array of victims, including a schoolgirl, an estate agent and a pharmacist. That had been part of the terror of the Essex Butcher, according to the contemporary press: he wasnt confining his attacks to prostitutes who, it was implied, were a killers natural prey. In fact, the only working girl who was known to have been attacked by him had survived. Helen Wardrop, the woman in question, had told her story in a television documentary about Creed, which Strike had watched on YouTube a few nights previously while eating a Chinese takeaway. The program had been salacious and melodramatic, with many poorly acted reconstructions and music lifted from a seventies horror movie. At the time of filming, Helen Wardrop had been a slack-faced, slow-spoken woman with dyed red hair and badly applied fake eyelashes, whose glazed affect and monotone suggested either tranquilizers or neurological damage. Creed had struck the drunk and screaming Helen what might have been a fatal blow to the head with a hammer in the course of trying to force her into the back of his van. She turned her head obligingly for the interviewer, to show the viewers a still-depressed area of skull. The interviewer told her she must feel very lucky to have survived. There was a tiny hesitation before she agreed with him. Strike had turned off the documentary at that point, frustrated by the banality of the questioning. He, too, had once been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and bore the lifelong consequences, so he perfectly understood Helen Wardrops hesitation. In the immediate aftermath of the explosion that had taken Strikes foot and shin, not to mention the lower half of Sergeant Gary Topleys body and a chunk of Richard Anstiss face, Strike had felt a variety of emotions which included guilt, gratitude, confusion, fear, rage, resentment and loneliness, but he couldnt remember feeling lucky. Lucky would have been the bomb not detonating. Lucky would have meant still having both his legs. Lucky was what people who couldnt bear to contemplate horrors needed to hear maimed and terrorized survivors call themselves. He recalled his aunts tearful assertion that he wasnt in pain as he lay in his hospital bed, groggy with morphine, her words standing in stark contrast to the first Polworth had spoken to him, when he visited Strike in Selly Oak Hospital. Bit of a fucker, this, Diddy. It is, a bit, Strike had said, his amputated leg stretched in front of him, nerve endings insisting that the calf and foot were still there. Strike arrived at Amersham station to discover hed just missed a train back to London. He therefore sat down on a bench outside in the feeble autumn sunshine of late afternoon, took out his cigarettes, lit one, then examined his phone. Two texts and a missed call had come in while hed been interviewing Gupta, his mobile on mute. The texts were from his half-brother Al and his friend Ilsa, and could therefore wait, whereas the missed call was from George Layborn, whom he immediately phoned back. That you, Strike? Yeah. You just phoned me. I did. Ive got it for you. Copy of the Bamborough file. Youre kidding! said Strike, exhaling on a rush of exhilaration. George, thats phenomenal, I owe you big time for this. Buy me a pint and mention me to the press if you ever find out who did it. Valuable assistance. Couldnt have done it without him. We can decide the wording after. Might remind this lot I deserve promotion. Listen, added Layborn, more seriously, its a mess. The file. Real mess. In what way? Old. Bits missing, from what Ive seen, though they might just be in the wrong orderI havent had time to go systematically through the whole thing, theres four boxes worth herebut Talbots record-keeping was all over the place and Lawson coming in and trying to make sense of it hasnt really helped. Anyway, for what its worth, its yours. Ill be over your way tomorrow and drop it in at the office, shall I? Cant tell you how much I appreciate this, George. My old man wouldve been dead happy to know someone was going to take another look, said Layborn. Hedve loved to see Creed nailed for another one. Layborn rang off and Strike immediately lit a cigarette and called Robin to give her the good news, but his call went straight to voicemail. Then he remembered that she was in a meeting with the persecuted weatherman, so he turned his attention to the text from Al. Hey bruv, it began, chummily. Al was the only sibling on his fathers side with whom Strike maintained any kind of ongoing relationship, spasmodic and one-sided though it was, Al making all the running. Strike had a total of six Rokeby half-siblings, three of whom hed never even met, a situation which he felt no need to remedy, finding the stresses of his known relatives quite sufficient to be going on with. As you know, the Deadbeats are celebrating 50 years together next year Strike hadnt known this. Hed met his father, Jonny Rokeby, who was lead singer of the Deadbeats, exactly twice in his life and most of the information he had about his rock-star father had come either from his mother Leda, the woman with whom he had carelessly fathered a child in the semi-public corner of a party in New York, or from the press. As you know, the Deadbeats are celebrating 50 years together next year and (super confidential) theyre going to drop a surprise new album on 24th May. We (families) are throwing them a big London bash that night at Spencer House to celebrate the launch. Bruv, it would mean the world to all of us, especially Dad, if you came. Gabys had the idea of getting a picture taken of all the kids together, to give him as a present on the night. First ever. Getting it framed, as a surprise. Everyones in. We just need you. Think about it, bruv. Strike read this text through twice, then closed it without replying and opened Ilsas, which was far shorter. Its Robins birthday, you total dickhead. 12 With flattering wordes he sweetly wooed her, And offered faire guiftes, tallure her sight, But she both offers and the offerer Despysde, and all the fawning of the flatterer. Edmund Spenser The Faerie Queene The television weatherman brought his wife to the catch-up meeting with Robin. Once ensconced in the agencys inner office, the couple proved hard to shift. The wife had arrived with a new theory to present to Robin, triggered by the most recent anonymous postcard to arrive by post at the television studio. It was the fifth card to feature a painting, and the third to have been bought at the National Portrait Gallery shop, and this had caused the weathermans thoughts to turn to an ex-girlfriend, whod been to art school. He didnt know where the woman was now, but surely it was worth looking for her? Robin thought it was highly unlikely that an ex-girlfriend would choose anonymous postcards to reconnect with a lost love, given the existence of social media and, indeed, the publicly available contact details for the weatherman, but she agreed diplomatically that this was worth looking into, and took down as many details of this long-vanished love interest as the weatherman could remember. Robin then ran through all the measures the agency was so far taking to trace the sender of the cards, and reassured husband and wife that they were continuing to watch the house at night, in the hopes that Postcard would show themselves. The weatherman was a small man with reddish-brown hair, dark eyes and a possibly deceptive air of apology. His wife, a thin woman several inches taller than her husband, seemed frightened by the late-night hand deliveries, and slightly annoyed by her husbands half-laughing assertions that you didnt expect this sort of thing when you were a weatherman, because, after all, he was hardly the film star type, and who knew what this woman was capable of? Or man, his wife reminded him. We dont know its a woman, do we? No, thats true, said her husband, the smile fading slowly from his face. When at last the couple had left, walking out past Pat, who was stoically typing away at her desk, Robin returned to the inner office and re-examined the most recent postcard. The painting on the front featured the portrait of a nineteenth-century man in a high cravat. James Duffield Harding. Robin had never heard of him. She flipped the card over. The printed message read: HE ALWAYS REMINDS ME OF YOU. She turned the card over again. The mousy man in side-whiskers did resemble the weatherman. A yawn caught her by surprise. Shed spent most of the day clearing paperwork, authorizing payment of bills and tweaking the rota for the coming fortnight to accommodate Morriss request for Saturday afternoon off, so that he could go and watch his three-year-old daughter perform in a ballet show. Checking her watch, Robin saw that it was already five oclock. Fighting the low mood that had been held at bay by hard work, she tidied away the Postcard file, and switched her mobile ringer back on. Within seconds, it had rung: Strike. Hello, said Robin, trying not to sound peeved, because as the hours had rolled by it had become clear to her that Strike had indeed forgotten her birthday yet again. Happy birthday, he said, over the sound of what Robin could tell was a train. Thanks. Ive got something for you, but I wont be back for an hour, Ive only just got on the train back from Amersham. Have you hell got something, thought Robin. You forgot. Youre just going to grab flowers on the way back to the office. Robin was sure Ilsa must have tipped Strike off, because Ilsa had called her just before the client had arrived, to tell Robin that she might be unavoidably late for drinks. Shed also asked, with unconvincing casualness, what Strike had bought her, and Robin had answered truthfully, Nothing. Thats nice, thanks, Robin said now, but Im just leaving. Going out for a drink tonight. Oh, said Strike. Right. Sorrycouldnt be helped, you know, with coming out here to meet Gupta. No, said Robin, well, you can leave them here in the office Yeah, said Strike, and Robin noted that he didnt dispute the word them. It was definitely going to be flowers. Anyway, said Strike, big news. George Layborns got hold of a copy of the Bamborough file. Oh, thats great! said Robin, enthusiastic in spite of herself. Yeah, isnt it? Hes going to bring it over tomorrow morning. How was Gupta? asked Robin, sitting down on her side of the partners desk which had replaced Strikes old single one. Interesting, especially about Margot herself, said Strike, who became muffled as, Robin guessed, the train went through a tunnel. Robin pressed the mobile closer to her ear and said, In what way? Dunno, said Strike distantly. From the old photo, I wouldnt have guessed an ardent feminist. She sounds much more of a personality than Id imagined, which is stupid, reallywhy shouldnt she have a personality, and a strong one? But Robin knew, somehow, what he meant. The hazy picture of Margot Bamborough, frozen in blurry time with her seventies middle parting, her wide, rounded lapels, her knitted tank top, seemed to belong to a long-gone, two-dimensional world of faded color. Tell you the rest tomorrow, said Strike, because their connection was breaking up. Receptions not great here. I can hardly hear you. OK, fine, said Robin loudly. Speak tomorrow. She opened the door into the outer office again. Pat was just turning off Robins old PC, electronic cigarette sticking out of her mouth. Was that Strike? she asked, crow-like, with her jet-black hair and her croak, the fake cigarette waggling. Yep, said Robin, reaching for her coat and bag. Hes on his way back from Amersham. Lock up as usual though, Pat, he can let himself in if he needs to. Has he remembered your birthday yet? asked Pat, who seemed to have taken sadistic satisfaction in news of Strikes forgetfulness that morning. Yes, said Robin, and out of loyalty to Strike she added, hes got a present for me. Ill get it tomorrow. Pat had bought Robin a new purse. That old one was coming apart at the seams, she said, when Robin unwrapped it. Robin, touched in spite of the fact that she might not have chosen bright red, had expressed warm thanks and at once transferred her money and cards across into the new one. Good thing about having one in a nice bright color, you can always find it in your bag, Pat had said complacently. Whats that Scottish nutter got you? Barclay had left a small wrapped package with Pat to give to Robin that morning. Cards, said Robin, smiling as she unwrapped the package. Sam was telling me all about these, look, when we were out on surveillance the other night. Cards showing Al-Qaedas most wanted. They gave packs out to the American troops during the Iraq War. Whats he given you those for? said Pat. What are you supposed to do with them? Well, because I was interested, when he told me, said Robin, amused by Pats disdain. I can play poker with them. Theyve got all the right numbers and everything, look. Bridge, Pat had said. Thats a proper game. I like a nice game of bridge. As both women pulled on their coats, Pat asked, Going anywhere nice tonight? For a drink with a couple of friends, said Robin. But Ive got a Selfridges voucher burning a hole in my pocket. Think I might treat myself first. Lovely, croaked Pat. What dyou fancy? Before Robin could answer, the glass door behind her opened and Saul Morris entered, handsome, smiling and a little breathless, his black hair sleek, his blue eyes bright. With some misgiving, she saw the wrapped present and card clutched in his hand. Happy birthday! he said. Hoped Id catch you. And before Robin could prevent it, hed bent down and kissed her on the cheek; no air kiss, this, but proper contact of lips and skin. She took half a step backward. Got you a little something, he said, apparently sensing nothing amiss, but holding out to her the gift and card. Its nothing really. And hows Moneypenny? he said, turning to Pat, who had already removed her electronic cigarette to smile at him, displaying teeth the color of old ivory. Moneypenny, repeated Pat, beaming. Get on with you. Robin tore the paper from her gift. Inside was a box of Fortnum and Mason salted caramel truffles. Oh, very nice, said Pat approvingly. Chocolates, it seemed, were a far more appropriate gift for a young woman than a pack of cards with Al-Qaeda members on them. Remembered you like a bit of salted caramel, said Morris, looking proud of himself. Robin knew exactly where hed got this idea, and it didnt make her any more appreciative. A month previously, at the first meeting of the entire expanded agency, Robin had opened a tin of fancy biscuits that had arrived in a hamper sent by a grateful client. Strike had inquired why everything these days was salted caramel flavor, and Robin had replied that it didnt seem to be stopping him eating them by the handful. Shed expressed no personal fondness for the flavor, but Morris had evidently paid both too little and too much attention, treasuring up his lazy assumption for use at some later date. Thanks very much, she said, with a bare minimum of warmth. Im afraid Ive got to dash. And before Pat could point out that Selfridges would still be there in a half an hour, Robin had slid past Morris and started down the metal stairs, his card still unopened in her hand. Exactly why Morris grated on her so much, Robin was still pondering as she moved slowly around Selfridges great perfume hall half an hour later. Shed decided to buy herself some new perfume, because shed been wearing the same scent for five years. Matthew had liked it, and never wanted her to change, but her last bottle was down to the dregs, and she had a sudden urge to douse herself in something that Matthew wouldnt recognize, and possibly wouldnt even like. The cheap little bottle of 4711 cologne shed bought on the way to Falmouth was nowhere near distinctive enough for a new signature scent, and so she wandered through a vast maze of smoked mirrors and gilded lights, between islands of seductive bottles and illuminated pictures of celebrities, each little domain presided over by black-clad sirens offering squirts and testing strips. Was it pompous of her, she wondered, to think that Morris the subcontractor ought not to assume the right to kiss an agency partner? Would she mind if the generally reserved Hutchins kissed her on the cheek? No, she decided, she wouldnt mind at all, because shed now known Andy over a year, and in any case, Hutchins would do the polite thing and make the greeting a matter of brief proximity of two faces, not a pressing of lips into her face. And what about Barclay? Hed never kissed her, though he had recently called her ya numpty when, on surveillance, she had accidentally spilled hot coffee all over him in her excitement at seeing their target, a civil servant, leaving a known brothel at two oclock in the morning. But she hadnt minded Barclay calling her a numpty in the slightest. Shed been a numpty. Turning a corner, Robin found herself facing the Yves Saint Laurent counter, and with a sudden sharpening of interest, her eyes focused on a blue, black and silver cylinder bearing the name Rive Gauche. Robin had never knowingly smelled Margot Bamboroughs favorite perfume before. Its a classic, said the bored-looking salesgirl, watching Robin spraying Rive Gauche onto a fresh testing strip and inhaling. Robin tended to rate perfumes according to how well they reproduced a familiar flower or foodstuff, but this wasnt a smell from nature. There was a ghostly rose there, but also something strangely metallic. Robin, who was used to fragrances made friendly with fruit and candy, set down the strip with a smile and a shake of her head and walked on. So that was how Margot Bamborough had smelled, she thought. It was a far more sophisticated scent than the one Matthew had loved on Robin, which was a natural-smelling concoction of figs, fresh, milky and green. Robin turned a corner and saw, standing on a counter directly ahead of her, a faceted glass bottle full of pink liquid: Flowerbomb, Sarah Shadlocks signature scent. Robin had seen it in Sarah and Toms bathroom whenever she and Matthew had gone over for dinner. Since leaving Matthew, Robin had had ample time to realize that the occasions on which he had changed the sheets mid-week, because hed spilled tea or thought Id do it today, save you doing it tomorrow must have been as much to wash away that loud, sweet scent, as any other, more obviously incriminating traces that might have leaked from careful condoms. Its a modern classic, said the hopeful salesgirl, whod noticed Robin looking at the glass hand grenade. With a perfunctory smile, Robin shook her head and turned away. Now her reflection in the smoked glass looked simply sad, as she picked up bottles and smelled strips in a joyless hunt for something to improve this lousy birthday. She suddenly wished that she were heading home, and not out for drinks. What are you looking for? said a sharp-cheekboned black girl, whom Robin passed shortly afterward. Five minutes later, after a brief, professional interchange, Robin was heading back toward Oxford Street with a rectangular black bottle in her bag. The salesgirl had been highly persuasive. and if you want something totally different, shed said, picking up a fifth bottle, spraying a little onto a strip and wafting it around, try Fracas. Shed handed the strip to Robin, whose nostrils were now burning from the rich and varied assault of the past half hour. Sexy but grown-up, you know? Its a real classic. And in that moment, Robin, breathing in heady, luscious, oily tuberose, had been seduced by the idea of becoming, in her thirtieth year, a sophisticated woman utterly different from the kind of fool who was too stupid to realize that what her husband told her he loved, and what he liked taking into his bed, bore about as much resemblance as a fig to a hand grenade. 13 Thence forward by that painfull way they pas, Forth to an hill, that was both steepe and hy; On top whereof a sacred chappell was, And eke a little hermitage thereby. Edmund Spenser The Faerie Queene In retrospect, Strike regretted the first gift hed ever given Robin Ellacott. Hed bought the expensive green dress in a fit of quixotic extravagance, feeling safe in giving her something so personal only because she was engaged to another man and he was never going to see her again, or so hed thought. Shed modeled it for Strike in the course of persuading a saleswoman into indiscretions, and that girls evidence, which Robin had so skillfully extracted, had helped solve the case that had made Strikes name and saved his agency from bankruptcy. Buoyed by a tide of euphoria and gratitude, hed returned to the shop and made the purchase as a grand farewell gesture. Nothing else had seemed to encapsulate what he wanted to tell her, which was look what we achieved together, I couldnt have done it without you and (if he was being totally honest with himself) you look gorgeous in this, and Id like you to know I thought so when I saw you in it. But things hadnt panned out quite as Strike had expected, because within an hour of giving her the green dress hed hired her as a full-time assistant. Doubtless the dress accounted for at least some of the profound mistrust Matthew, her fianc?, had henceforth felt toward the detective. Worse still, from Strikes point of view, it had set the bar uncomfortably high for future gifts. Whether consciously or not, hed lowered expectations considerably since, either by forgetting to buy Robin birthday and Christmas gifts, or by making them as generic as was possible. He purchased stargazer lilies at the first florist he could find when he got off the train from Amersham, and bore them into the office for Robin to find next day. Hed chosen them for their size and powerful fragrance. He felt he ought to spend more money than he had on the previous years belated bunch, and these looked impressive, as though he hadnt skimped. Roses carried an unwelcome connotation of Valentines Day, and nearly everything else in the florists stockadmittedly depleted at half past five in the afternoonlooked a little bedraggled or underwhelming. The lilies were large and yet reassuringly impersonal, sculptural in quality and heavy with fragrance, and there was safety in their very boldness. They came from a clinical hothouse; there was no romantic whisper of quiet woods or secret garden about them: they were flowers of which he could say robustly nice smell, with no further justification for his choice. Strike wasnt to know that Robins primary association with stargazer lilies, now and for evermore, would be with Sarah Shadlock, whod once brought an almost identical bouquet to Robin and Matthews housewarming party. When she walked into the office the day after her birthday and saw the flowers standing there on the partners desk, stuck in a vase full of water but still in their cellophane, with a large magenta bow on them and a small card that read Happy birthday from Cormoran (no kiss, he never put kisses), she was affected exactly the same way shed been by the hand-grenade-shaped bottle in Selfridges. She didnt want these flowers; they were a double irritant in reminding her of Strikes forgetfulness and Matthews infidelity, and if she had to look at or smell them, she resolved, it wouldnt be in her own home. So shed left the lilies at the office, where they stubbornly refused to die, Pat conscientiously refilling their water every morning and taking such good care of them that they lived for nearly two weeks. Even Strike was sick of them by the end: he kept getting wafts of something that reminded him of his ex-girlfriend Loreleis perfume, an unpleasant association. By the time the waxy pink and white petals began to shrivel and fall, the thirty-ninth anniversary of Margot Bamboroughs disappearance had passed unmarked and probably unnoticed by anyone except, perhaps, her family, Strike and Robin, who both registered the fateful date. Copies of the police records had been brought to the office as promised by George Layborn, and now lay in four cardboard boxes under the partners desk, which was the only place the agency had room for them. Strike, who was currently the least encumbered by the agencys other cases, because he was holding himself in readiness to go back down to Cornwall should the need arise, set himself to work systematically through these files. Once hed digested their contents, he intended to visit Clerkenwell with Robin, and retrace the route between the old St. Johns practice where Margot had last been seen alive, and the pub where her friend had waited for her in vain. So, on the last day of October, Robin left the office at one oclock and hurried, beneath a threatening sky and with her umbrella ready in her hand, onto the Tube. She was quietly excited by the prospect of this afternoon, the first she and Strike would spend working the Bamborough case together. It was already drizzling slightly when Robin caught sight of Strike, standing smoking as he surveyed the frontage of a building halfway down St. Johns Lane. He turned at the sound of her heels on the wet pavement. Am I late? she called, as she approached. No, said Strike, I was early. She joined him, still holding her umbrella, and looked up at the tall, multi-story building of brown brick, with large, metal-framed windows. It appeared to house offices, but there was no indication of what kind of businesses were operating inside. It was right here, said Strike, pointing at the door numbered 29. The old St. Johns Medical Practice. Theyve remodeled the front of the building, obviously. There used to be a back entrance, he said. Well go round and have a shufti in a minute. Robin turned to look up and down St. Johns Lane, which was a long, narrow one-way street, bordered on either side by tall, multi-windowed buildings. Very overlooked, commented Robin. Yep, said Strike. So, lets begin with what Margot was wearing when she disappeared. I already know, said Robin. Brown corduroy skirt, red shirt, knitted tank top, beige Burberry raincoat, silver necklace and earrings, gold wedding ring. Carrying a leather shoulder bag and a black umbrella. You should take up detection, said Strike, mildly impressed. Ready for the police records? Go on. At a quarter to six on the eleventh of October 1974 only three people are known to have been inside this building: Margot, who was dressed exactly as you describe, but hadnt yet put on her raincoat; Gloria Conti, who was the younger of the two receptionists; and an emergency patient with abdominal pain, whod walked in off the street. The patient, according to the hasty note Gloria took, was called Theo question mark. In spite of the male name, and Dr. Joseph Brenners assertion that he thought the patient looked like a man, and Talbot trying hard to persuade her that Theo was a man dressed as a woman, Gloria never wavered in her assertion that Theo was a woman. All the other employees had left before a quarter to six, except Wilma the cleaner, who hadnt been there at all that day, because she didnt work Fridays. More of Wilma later. Janice, the nurse, was here until midday, then making house visits the rest of the afternoon and didnt return. Irene, the receptionist, left at half past two for a dental appointment and didnt come back. According to their statements, each of which were corroborated by some other witness, the secretary, Dorothy, left at ten past five, Dr. Gupta at half past and Dr. Brenner at a quarter to six. Police were happy with the alibis all three gave for the rest of the evening: Dorothy went home to her son and spent the evening watching TV with him. Dr. Gupta attended a large family dinner to celebrate his mothers birthday and Dr. Brenner was with the spinster sister he shared his house with. Both Brenners were seen through the sitting-room window later that evening, by a dog walker. The last registered patients, a mother and child, were Margots, and they left the practice shortly before Brenner did. The patients testified that Margot was fine when they saw her. From that point on, Gloria is the only witness. According to Gloria, Theo went into Margots consulting room and stayed there longer than expected. At a quarter past six, Theo left, never to be seen at the practice again. A police appeal was subsequently put out for her, but nobody came forward. Margot left no notes about Theo. The assumption is that she intended to write up the consultation the following day, because her friend had now been waiting for her in the pub for a quarter of an hour and she didnt want to make herself even later. Shortly after Theo left, Margot came hurrying out of her consulting room, put on her raincoat, told Gloria to lock up with the emergency key, walked out into the rain, put up her umbrella, turned right and disappeared from Glorias sight. Strike turned and pointed up the road toward a yellow stone arch of ancient appearance, which lay directly ahead of them. Which means she was heading in that direction, toward the Three Kings. For a moment, both of them looked toward the old arch that spanned the road, as though some shadow of Margot might materialize. Then Strike ground out his cigarette underfoot and said, Follow me. He walked the length of number 28, then paused to point up a dark passageway the width of a door, called Passing Alley. Good hiding place, said Robin, pausing to look up and down the dark, vaulted corridor through the buildings. Certainly is, said Strike. If somebody wanted to lie in wait for her, this is tailor made. Catch her by surprise, drag her up herebut after that, itd get problematic. They walked along the short passage and emerged into a sunken garden area of concrete and shrubs that lay between two parallel streets. The police searched this whole garden area with sniffer dogs. Nothing. And if an assailant dragged her onwards, through there, Strike pointed to the road that ran parallel to St. Johns Lane, onto St. John Street, it wouldve been well-nigh impossible to go undetected. The streets far busier than St. Johns Lane. And thats assuming a fit, tall twenty-nine-year-old wouldnt have shouted and fought back. He turned to look at the back entrance. The district nurse sometimes went in the back, rather than going through the waiting room. She had a little room to the rear of the building where she kept her own stuff and sometimes saw patients. Wilma the cleaner sometimes went out the back door as well. Otherwise it was usually locked. Are we interested in people being able to enter or leave the building through a second door? asked Robin. Not especially, but I want to get a feel for the layout. Its been nearly forty years: weve got to go back over everything. They walked back through Passing Alley to the front of the building. Weve got one advantage over Bill Talbot, said Strike. We know the Essex Butcher turned out to be slim and blond, not a swarthy thickset person of gypsy-ish appearance. Theo, whoever she was, wasnt Creed. Which doesnt necessarily make her irrelevant, of course. One last thing, then were done with the practice itself, said Strike, looking up at number 29. Irene, the blonde receptionist, told the police that Margot received two threatening, anonymous notes shortly before she disappeared. Theyre not in the police file, so weve only got Irenes statement to go on. She claims she opened one, and that she saw another on Margots desk when bringing her tea. She says the one she read mentioned hellfire. Youd think it was the secretarys job to open mail, commented Robin. Not a receptionists. Good point, said Strike, pulling out his notebook and scribbling, well check that It seems relevant to add here that Talbot thought Irene was an unreliable witness: inaccurate and prone to exaggeration. Incidentally, Gupta said Irene and Margot had what he called a contretemps at a Christmas party. He didnt think it was a particularly big deal, but hed remembered it. And is Talbot? Dead? Yes, said Strike. Sos Lawson, who took over from him. Talbots got a son, though, and Im thinking of getting in touch with him. Lawson never had kids. Go on, about the anonymous notes. Well, Gloria, the other receptionist, said Irene showed her one of the notes, but couldnt remember what was in it. Janice, the nurse, confirmed that Irene had told her about them at the time, but said she hadnt personally seen them. Margot didnt tell Gupta about themI called him to check. Anyway, said Strike, giving the street one last sweeping look through the drizzle, assuming nobody abducted Margot right outside the practice, or that she didnt get in a car yards from the door, she headed toward the Three Kings, which takes us this way. Dyou want to come under this umbrella? Robin asked. No, said Strike. His densely curling hair looked the same wet or dry: he had very little vanity. They continued up the street and passed through St. Johns Gate, the ancient stone arch decorated with many small heraldic shields, emerging onto Clerkenwell Road, a bustling two-way street, which they crossed, arriving beside an old-fashioned scarlet phone box which stood at the mouth of Albemarle Way. Is that the phone box where the two women were seen struggling? asked Robin. Strike did a double take. Youve read the case notes, he said, almost accusingly. I had a quick look, Robin admitted, while I was printing out Two-Times bill last night. I didnt read everything; didnt have time. Just looked at a few bits and pieces. Well, that isnt the phone box, said Strike. The important phone boxor boxescome later. Well get to them in due course. Now follow me. Instead of proceeding into a paved pedestrian area that Robin, from her own scant research, knew Margot must have crossed if she had been heading for the Three Kings, Strike turned left, up Clerkenwell Road. Why are we going this way? asked Robin, jogging to keep up. Because, said Strike, stopping again and pointing up at a top window on the building opposite, which looked like an old brick warehouse, some time after six oclock on the evening in question, a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl called Amanda White swore she saw Margot at the top window, second from the right, banging her fists against the glass. I havent seen that mentioned online! said Robin. For the good reason that the police concluded there was nothing in it. Talbot, as is clear from his notes, disregarded White because her story couldnt be fitted into his theory that Creed had abducted Margot. But Lawson went back to Amanda when he took over, and actually walked with her along this stretch of road. Amandas account had a few things going for it. For one thing, she told the police unprompted that this had happened the evening after the general election, which she remembered because she had an argument with a Tory schoolfriend. The pair of them had been kept back after school for a detention. Theyd then gone for a coffee together, over which the schoolfriend went into a huff when Mandy said it was good that Wilson had won, and refused to walk home with her. Amanda said she was still angry about her friend getting stroppy when she looked up and saw a woman pounding on the glass with her fists. The description she gave was a good one, although by this time, a full description of Margots appearance and clothing had been in the press. Lawson contacted the business owner who worked on the top floor. It was a paper design company run by a husband and wife. They produced small runs of pamphlets, posters and invitations, that kind of stuff. No connection to Margot. Neither of them were registered with the St. Johns practice, because they lived out of the area. The wife said she sometimes had to thump the window frame to make it close. However, the wife in no way resembled Margot, being short, tubby and ginger-haired. And someone wouldve noticed Margot on her way up to the third floor, surely? said Robin, looking from the top window to the front door. She moved back from the curb: cars were splashing through the puddles in the gutter. Shed have climbed the stairs or used the lift, and maybe rung the doorbell to get in. Youd think so, agreed Strike. Lawson concluded that Amanda had made an innocent mistake and thought the printers wife was Margot. They returned to the point where they had deviated from what Robin thought of as Margots route. Strike paused again, pointing up the gloomy side road called Albemarle Way. Now, disregard the phone box, but note that Albemarle Way is the first side street since Passing Alley I think she could plausibly have enteredvoluntarily or notwithout necessarily being seen by fifty-odd people. Quieter, as you can seebut not that quiet, admitted Strike, looking toward the end of Albemarle Way, where traffic was passing at a steady rate. Albemarle Way was narrower than St. Johns Lane, but similar in being bordered by tall buildings in unbroken lines, which kept it permanently in shadow. Still a risk for an abductor, said Strike, but if Dennis Creed was lurking somewhere in his van, waiting for a lone womanany womanto walk past in the rain, this is the place I can see it happening. It was at this moment, as a cold breeze whistled up Albemarle Way, that Strike caught a whiff of what he had thought were the dying stargazer lilies, but now realized was coming from Robin herself. The perfume wasnt exactly the same as the one that Lorelei had worn; his exs had been strangely boozy, with overtones of rum (and hed liked it when the scent had been an accompaniment to easy affection and imaginative sex; only later had he come to associate it with passive-aggression, character assassination and pleas for a love he could not feel). Nevertheless, this scent strongly resembled Loreleis; he found it cloying and sickly. Of course, many would say it was rich for him to have opinions about how women smelled, given that his signature odor was that of an old ashtray, overlain with a splash of Pour Un Homme on special occasions. Nevertheless, having spent much of his childhood in conditions of squalor, Strike found cleanliness a necessary trait in anyone he could find attractive. Hed liked Robins previous scent, which hed missed when she wasnt in the office. This way, he said, and they proceeded through the rain into an irregular pedestrianized square. A few seconds later, Strike suddenly became aware that hed left Robin behind, and walked back several paces to join her in front of St. John Priory Church, a pleasingly symmetrical building of red brick, with long windows and two white stone pillars flanking the entrance. Thinking about her lying in a holy place? he asked, lighting up again while the rain beat down on him. Exhaling, he held the cigarette cupped in his hand, to prevent its extinguishment. No, said Robin, a little defensively, but then, yes, all right, maybe a bit. Look at this Strike followed her through the open gates into a small garden of remembrance, open to the public and full (as Robin read off a small sign on the inner wall) of medicinal herbs, including many used in medieval times, in the Order of St. Johns hospitals. A white figure of Christ hung on the back wall, surrounded with the emblems of the four evangelists: the bull, the lion, the eagle and the angel. Fronds and leaves undulated gently beneath the rain. As Robins eyes swept the small, walled garden, Strike, whod followed her, said, I think we can agree that if somebody buried her in here, a cleric would have noticed disturbed earth. I know, said Robin. Im just looking. As they returned to the street, she added, There are Maltese crosses everywhere, look. They were on that archway we just passed through, too. Its the cross of the Knights Hospitaller. Knights of St. John. Hence the street names and the emblem of St. John ambulance; theyve got their headquarters back in St. Johns Lane. If that medium Googled the area Margot went missing, she cant have missed Clerkenwells associations with the Order of St. John. Ill bet you thats where she got the idea for that little bit of holy place padding. But bear it in mind, because the cross is going to come up again once we reach the pub. You know, said Robin, turning to look back at the Priory, Peter Tobin, that Scottish serial killerhe attached himself to churches. He joined a religious sect at one point, under an assumed name. Then he got a job as a handyman at a church in Glasgow, where he buried that poor girl beneath the floorboards. Churches are good cover for killers, said Strike. Sex offenders, too. Priests and doctors, said Robin thoughtfully. Its hardwired in most of us to trust them, dont you think? After the Catholic Churchs many scandals? After Harold Shipman? Yes, I think so, said Robin. Dont you think we tend to invest some categories of people with unearned goodness? I suppose weve all got a need to trust people who seem to have power over life and death. Think youre onto something there, said Strike, as they entered a short pedestrian lane called Jerusalem Passage. I told Gupta it was odd that Joseph Brenner didnt like people. I thought that might be a basic job requirement for a doctor. He soon put me right. Lets stop here a moment, Strike said, doing so. If Margot got this farIm assuming shedve taken this route, because its the shortest and most logical way to the Three Kingsthis is the first time shed have passed residences rather than offices or public buildings. Robin looked at the buildings around them. Sure enough, there were a couple of doors whose multiple buzzers indicated flats above. Is there a chance, said Strike, however remote, that someone living along this lane could have persuaded or forced her inside? Robin looked up and down the street, the rain pattering onto her umbrella. Well, she said slowly, obviously it could have happened, but it seems unlikely. Did someone wake up that day and decide they wanted to abduct a woman, reach outside and grab one? Have I taught you nothing? OK, fine: means before motive. But there are problems with the means, too. This is really overlooked as well. Does nobody see or hear her being abducted? Doesnt she scream or fight? And I assume the abductor lives alone, unless their housemates are also in on the kidnapping? All valid points, admitted Strike. Plus, the police went door to door here. Everyone was questioned, though the flats werent searched. But lets think this through Shes a doctor. What if someone shoots out of a house and begs her to come inside to look at an injured persona sick relativeand once inside, they dont let her go? Thatd be a good ploy for getting her inside, pretending there was a medical emergency. OK, but that presupposes they knew she was a doctor. The abductor couldve been a patient. But how did they know shed be passing their house at that particular time? Had she alerted the whole neighborhood that she was about to go to the pub? Maybe it was a random thing, they saw her passing, they knew she was a doctor, they ran out and grabbed her. OrI dunno, lets say there really was a sick or dying person inside, or someones had an accidentperhaps theres an argumentshe disagrees with the treatment or refuses to helpthe fight becomes physicalshes accidentally killed. There was a short silence, while they moved aside for a group of chattering French students. When these had passed, Strike said, Its a stretch, I grant you. We can find out how many of these buildings are occupied by the same people they were thirty-nine years ago, said Robin, but weve still got the problem of how theyve kept her body hidden for nearly four decades. You wouldnt dare move, would you? Thats a problem, all right, admitted Strike. As Gupta said, its not like disposing of a table of equivalent weight. Blood, decomposition, infestation plenty have tried keeping bodies on the premises. Crippen. Christie. Fred and Rose West. Its generally considered a mistake. Creed managed it for a while, said Robin. Boiling down severed hands in the basement. Burying heads apart from bodies. It wasnt the corpses that got him caught. Are you reading The Demon of Paradise Park? asked Strike sharply. Yes, said Robin. Dyou want that stuff in your head? If it helps us with the case, said Robin. Hmm. Just thinking of my health and safety responsibilities. Robin said nothing. Strike gave the houses a last, sweeping look, then invited Robin to walk on, saying, Youre right, I cant see it. Freezers get opened, gas men visit and notice a smell, neighbors notice blocked drains. But in the interests of thoroughness, we should check who was living here at the time. They now emerged onto the busiest road they had yet seen. Aylesbury Street was a wide road, lined with more office blocks and flats. So, said Strike, pausing again on the pavement, if Margots still walking to the pub, she wouldve crossed here and turned left, into Clerkenwell Green. But were pausing to note that it was there, Strike pointed some fifty yards to the right, that a small white van nearly knocked down two women as it sped away from Clerkenwell Green that evening. The incident was witnessed by four or five onlookers. Nobody got the registration number But Creed was putting fake license plates on the delivery van he was using, said Robin, so that might not help anyway. Correct. The van seen by witnesses on the eleventh of October 1974 had a design on the side. The onlookers didnt all agree what it was, but two of them thought a large flower. And we also know, said Robin, that Creed was using removable paint on the van to disguise its appearance. Correct again. So, on the surface, this looks like our first proper hint that Creed mightve been in the area. Talbot, of course, wanted to believe that, so he was uninterested in the opinion of one of the witnesses that the van actually belonged to a local florist. However, a junior officer, presumably one of those whod realized that his lead investigator was going quietly off his onion, went and questioned the florist, a man called Albert Shimmings, who absolutely denied driving a speeding van in this area that night. He claimed hed been giving his young son a lift in it, miles away. Which doesnt necessarily mean it wasnt Shimmings, said Robin. He might have been worried about being done for dangerous driving. No CCTV cameras nothing to prove it one way or the other. My thoughts exactly. If Shimmings is still alive, I think we should check his story. He mightve decided its worth telling the truth now a speeding charge cant stick. In the meantime, said Strike, the matter of the van remains unresolved and we have to admit that one possible explanation is that Creed was driving it. But where did he abduct Margot, if it was Creed in the van? asked Robin. It cantve been back in Albemarle Way, because this isnt how hed have left the area. True. If hed grabbed her in Albemarle Way, hedve joined Aylesbury Street much further down and he definitely wouldnt have come via Clerkenwell Greenwhich leads us neatly to the Two Struggling Women by the Phoneboxes. They proceeded through the drizzle into Clerkenwell Green, a wide rectangular square which boasted trees, a pub and a caf?. Two telephone boxes stood in the middle, near parked cars and a bike stand. Here, said Strike, coming to a halt between the phone boxes, is where Talbots craziness really starts messing with the case. A woman called Ruby Elliot, who was unfamiliar with the area, but trying to find her daughter and son-in-laws new house in Haywards Place, was driving around in circles in the rain, lost. She passed these phone boxes and noticed two women struggling together, one of whom seemed, in her word, tottery. She has no particularly distinct memory of themremember, its pouring with rain and shes anxiously trying to spot street signs and house numbers, because shes lost. All she can tell the police is that one of them was wearing a headscarf and the other a raincoat. The day after this detail appeared in the paper, a middle-aged woman of sound character came forward to say that the pair of women Ruby Elliot had seen had almost certainly been her and her aged mother. She told Talbot shed been walking the old dear across Clerkenwell Green that night, taking her home after a little walk. The mother, who was infirm and senile, was wearing a rainhat, and she herself was wearing a raincoat similar to Margots. They didnt have umbrellas, so she was trying to hurry her mother along. The old lady didnt take kindly to being rushed and there was a slight altercation here, right by the phone boxes. Ive got a picture of the two of them, incidentally: the press got hold of itsighting debunked. But Talbot wasnt having it. He flat-out refused to accept that the two women hadnt been Margot and a man dressed like a woman. The way he sees it: Margot and Creed meet here by the phone boxes, Creed wrestles her into his van, which presumably was parked there Strike pointed to the short line of parked cars nearby, then Creed takes off at speed, with her screaming and banging on the sides of the van, exiting down Aylesbury Street. But, said Robin, Talbot thought Theo was Creed. Why would Creed come to Margots surgery dressed as a woman, then walk out, leaving her unharmed, walk to Clerkenwell Green and grab her here, in the middle of the most public, overlooked place weve seen? Theres no point trying to make sense of it, because there isnt any. When Lawson took over the case, he went back to Fiona Fleury, which was the respectable middle-aged womans name, questioned her again and came away completely satisfied that she and her mother had been the women Ruby Elliot saw. Again, the general election was useful, because Fiona Fleury remembered being tired and not particularly patient with her difficult mother, because shed sat up late the night before, watching election coverage. Lawson concludedand Im inclined to agree with himthat the matter of the two struggling women had been resolved. The drizzle had thickened: raindrops were pounding on Robins umbrella and rendering the hems of her trousers sodden. They now turned up Clerkenwell Close, a curving street that rose toward a large and impressive church with a high, pointed steeple, set on higher ground. Margot cant have got this far, said Robin. You say that, said Strike, and to her surprise he paused again, looking ahead at the church, but we now reach one last alleged sighting. A church handymanyeah, I know, he added, in response to Robins startled look, called Willy Lomax claims he saw a woman in a Burberry raincoat walking up the steps to St. James-on-the-Green that evening, around the time Margot shouldve been arriving at the pub. He saw her from behind. These were the days, of course, when churches werent locked up all the time. Talbot, of course, disregarded Lomaxs evidence, because if Margot was alive and walking into churches, she couldnt have been speeding away in the Essex Butchers van. Lawson couldnt make much of Lomaxs evidence. The bloke stuck fast to his story: hed seen a woman matching Margots description go inside but, being a man of limited curiosity, didnt follow her, didnt ask her what she was up to and didnt watch to see whether she ever came out of the church again. And now, said Strike, weve earned a pint.

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