His name was Richard Williams and he worked in public relations. Despite living in a nice Edwardian semi in Chiswick, his family were originally from Fulwood, Sheffield and had enough readies to send him to Birkdale School as a day boy. Thus allowing him to get both an expensive education and a home cooked meal. He'd moved to London after graduating with a creditable first from Magdalen College Oxford. There he had met his first wife while working for a major advertising agency. Now with a second, younger, wife and a pair of daughters on the cusp of primary school he was, if I was any judge, getting ready to move out to the Thames Valley or even further west to ensure that they went to schools that were a little less "colorful" than the ones in Chiswick. I could guess this because I knew just about everything there was to know about Richard Williams, from his school records to the last thing he bought online with his credit card. No doubt he would be horrified to hear that he'd fallen victim to the ubiquitous surveillance state, and even more horrified to learn that two police officers, me and DS "count the stripes" Guleed, were sitting across from his house in an unmarked, but mercifully not silver, Hyundai and keeping his house under observation.
Me and Guleed were less horrified, and more bored out of our tiny little minds.
We were there because while at Oxford Richard Williams had joined a dining club called the Little Crocodiles. Nothing unusual about that; plenty of posh students and their aspirational middle-class groupies joined dining clubs, if only for the chance to get pissed and boisterous without the fear of turning up on a cheap Channel 5 documentary about the moral decline of the English working class.
Or as my dad always says: it only becomes a social problem when the working man joins in.
What made the Little Crocodiles different was their founder Professor Geoffrey Wheatcroft, DD, DPhil, FSW, and fully qualified wizard. The FSW is the giveaway. It stands for Fellow of the Society of the Wise, otherwise known as The Folly-the official home of British wizardry since 1775. And if this is coming as a shock you might want to consider doing some background reading before you continue.
Geoffrey Wheatcroft thought it would be a laugh to teach some of the Little Crocodiles how to do magic-we don't know how many. A small percentage of them got really good at it, but we don't know how many of these there are, either.
What we do know is that at least two of them decided to use their magical skills to do some serious crimes. Including a couple that might just qualify as crimes against humanity-and I'm not joking about that.
Geoffrey Wheatcroft died before all this came to light, and so managed to avoid the consequences for his actions, although I know my governor occasionally fantasizes about digging up his corpse and setting fire to it. Also conveniently dead was Albert Woodville-Gentle, who we used to call Faceless Man number I. But, before he went, he helped train up Martin Chorley, who we called Faceless Man II. Trust me-it made sense at the time.
We know who Martin Chorley is, and we know what he's done. But we don't know where he is. Or what he's planning. And that's what's keeping us all awake at night.
The man was clever, I'll say that. He didn't count on getting busted, but he definitely had contingency plans and resources squirreled away just in case.
We really only had two viable lines of inquiry to find Martin Chorley. One was the fact that we know he recruited former Little Crocodiles to work for him, and the other was that there were more of those that we hadn't identified. So some bright spark came up with the idea of the "poke" strategy.
We got our analysts to locate likely candidates among the Little Crocodiles, then we put them under close surveillance and then we went and practiced some light intimidation-the "poke"-to spook them. That done, we sat back and waited to see if they reacted. Hopefully they might call a number or send an e-mail or a text to an unusual contact. Even more hopefully, they might run out of their house, jump in their car and lead us somewhere tasty.
That's why me and Guleed were in the Hyundai-so we could follow Williams if he ran for it.
"This is all your fault," said Guleed.
"It's bound to work sooner or later," I said.
Richard Williams was our third "poke" and the consensus was that we'd only get another two or three attempts before Martin Chorley twigged what we were doing, or someone tried to sue us for harassment.
"There they go," said Guleed.
I looked over and saw a battered green Vauxhall Corsa pull up outside the target house.
The house had probably cost a couple of million quid, with its two stories plus loft conversion, red brick, and detailing on the porch roof that hinted at Arts and Crafts without actually making it over the finishing line. It was at least mercifully free of pebble-dash and fake half-timbering. They'd retained the original sash windows but installed the venetian blinds that have replaced net curtains as the genteel response to sharing your neighborhood with other human beings. The blinds were currently open. But to avoid being bleeding obvious we were parked ten meters up the street, so the angle was too poor for us to see inside.
The burner phone I was holding pinged and a sideways smiley face appeared.
"Stand by," I said.
We were avoiding using our police issue Airwaves as much as possible, and not just because of the danger of them being wrecked if something magical happened. The smiley face had gone out to the team covering the next road over in case somebody made a break out of the back.
Nightingale and DC David Carey got out of the Corsa and started up the path to the front door.
"Here we go," said Guleed, and stifled a yawn.
We'd been swapping roles since we started the operation. Nightingale and Carey had been in the observation car for the last poke-in Chipping Norton. We were calling that one "the Aga saga" because our target hadn't shut up about his kitchen, which, as far as I could tell, had been designed by the same people who'd decorated Bag-End.
"Door's open," said Guleed, and I made a note of the time in the log.
Normally the police like to turn up nice and early, preferably around 6 a.m., because not only are people liable to be actually at home but that early in the morning they're rarely playing with a full deck. Today we were going in Sunday lunchtime because we weren't looking for shock and awe but aiming for sinister and creepy instead. Nightingale is remarkably good at that-I think it's the accent.
Richard Williams had once had a job with a company called Slick Pictures, who'd done a lot of work for a land development company that was, via a series of shell companies, wholly owned by a firm called County Gard. Which just happened to be the remote instrument by which Martin Chorley ran some of his criminal enterprises.
It was thin, but we were desperate and, at the very least, it might keep the pressure on.
Guleed fussed with her hijab, an unusually plain one for her, police issue and designed to tear away if somebody grabbed it. We were both wearing the plain clothes version of the Metvest under our jackets-just in case.
I watched a cat leap out of the next door garden and streak away down the road. Something about its frantic pace made me uneasy and I was just about to mention it to Guleed when the burner pinged again and flashed up "aa." We'd worked out a series of codes as part of our operational planning. The character was irrelevant-the code lay in the number of them you sent. Three characters meant stand by, one meant charge in screaming, and two meant we were to take up our prearranged "intervention" positions.
"That makes a change," she said.
We climbed out into the muggy warmth of a suburban Sunday lunchtime and headed for the house. The plan was to loiter as unobtrusively as possible outside the gate and await further instructions. But we were still eight meters short of the house when it all went pear-shaped.
The first I knew of it was a burst of vestigia from the house, as heavy as a mallet and as sharp and as controlled as the point of a needle-Nightingale's signare. If it was that intense, then he must have really let rip. And the last time he did that we'd needed a JCB to sweep up the remains.
I started running and got to the gate in time to see a fountain of slates erupt over the gable roof. As the slates tumbled and cracked down the front of the house, I saw a figure in pink and blue twist and squirm onto the ridge of the roof. It was a woman, slender, black haired, pale skinned and balanced perfectly on the guttering as if auditioning for the next Spider-Man movie.
She swung around to look down at me, head tilted to one side. Even from that distance I could see a wash of crimson around her mouth and chin, and running down the chest of her blue Adidas sweatshirt. I didn't think it was her blood.
She was wearing pink tracksuit bottoms and her feet were bare.
I recognized her from the briefing as the Williams' family nanny and also, from the way her lips were pulled back to bare her teeth, from a fight I'd once had years ago in the Trocadero Center.
Oh shit, I thought. Haven't I met your sister?
Having seen us, I assumed she was going to scarper over the roof and down into the back garden. So it was a bit of a shock when she launched herself straight at me. Now, me and Guleed are bona fide detectives with the PIP2 qualifications to prove it, so we're not really supposed to be fighting anyone. That's what we have the TSG for.
Still, our careers being what they are at the moment, we'd taken some time with Nightingale, Carey and a couple of other members of the team, discussing what to do in various scenarios. And the principal lesson was-don't close, don't grapple, don't get clever. And don't hesitate.
I went right and Guleed went left.
The nanny landed like a cat on the pavement in what I thought was clear defiance of the laws of physics. I don't care how supple you are, landing like that from three stories up should have driven her shin bones through her knees.
Once I'd put a nice new Nissan Micra between her and me, I conjured up an impello and whacked it at her knees. Guleed had gone over next door's garden wall and had her baton out. I watched her tense to jump forward as the nanny went down on her face.
And then rolled over, shaking off the blow to spring onto the bonnet of the Micra, and got a second impello in the face for her trouble. Because I don't hesitate with my follow-ups these days. This one knocked her off the bonnet and she landed on her back, her face contorted into a silent snarl of rage.
We weren't going to get a better opportunity than that, so me and Guleed threw ourselves on top of her. I went for the legs, Guleed for the arms. She kicked me as I came forward, her bare foot smashing into my shoulder and knocking me sideways. I saw another dirty heel coming at my face and I twisted enough to take it on the shoulder again. The first kick had been numbing, but the second was agonizing. Despite the pain I tried to wrap my arms around her legs and use my body mass to pin her down. But it was like wrestling with a forklift truck. I swear she lifted my whole body weight and threw me over and onto my back.
I didn't wait to get comfy. I rolled clear-straight into the gutter-and scrambled to my feet. The nanny was up, too, and facing off against Guleed, who'd kept a grip on her right arm. Even as I lurched back into the fight the nanny struck at Guleed's face with her free left hand. But Guleed pulled her head back and in one fluid motion, pivoted around and swung her baton. It made a peculiar noise-like tearing silk-and slammed across the nanny's back. The woman arched in pain and I watched as Guleed, still holding her arm, ran up the side of the Nissan Micra in a way that didn't actually look physically possible and used her whole body weight to bear the nanny face down on to the pavement.
I decided that this was my cue and jumped forward to seize the nanny's ankles. Before she could react I threw my weight backward so that her legs were fully extended. Deprived of leverage even the strongest person can't throw someone off their legs by main strength, and with Guleed on her back we almost had her. We only had to hold her until backup arrived, but we didn't even have our cuffs out when she rippled like a snake. Guleed tried to hang on, but she was knocked flying into me. By the time we were untangled and on our feet the nanny was away.
"Where the fuck is Nightingale?" I asked.
Saving Richard Williams from bleeding out, as it transpired.
"She tried to bite his throat right out," Carey told me later.