N ightingale pushed open the door to the office, waving the padded envelope that Turtledove had given him. ‘Great, you’re still here,’ he said. ‘Got any popcorn?’
Jenny looked up from her computer, frowning quizzically. ‘I was just about to go home. How did it go?’
Nightingale slid a DVD out of the envelope. ‘If I’m right this is another home movie from my dear departed daddy.’
‘That’s what Turtledove wanted to give you?’ She followed him through to his office and watched as he slotted the DVD into the player.
‘Yeah, he said he had only just received it. And here’s the kicker – he had to prove that I was alive before he could hand it over.’
Jenny picked up the remote. ‘Are you sure about this?’
‘Sure about what?’
‘That you want to know what’s on that DVD?’
‘Why wouldn’t I?’
‘Because if it’s anything like the last message, it won’t be good news. And maybe you’d be better off not knowing what he’s got to say to you.’
Nightingale sat down and lit a Marlboro. ‘Press “play”, Jenny,’ he said.
‘Do you ever listen to a word I say?’ she said, sitting down on the sofa by the door.
‘With bated breath, but if it was important enough for me to drive all the way down to Hamdale for, it’s important enough for me to watch, whether or not we’ve got popcorn.’
‘We haven’t,’ she said. ‘But there are some chocolate Hobnobs in my drawer.’
‘I’ll pass,’ he said. He waved at the television. ‘Please, the suspense is killing me.’
Jenny pressed ‘play’ and sat with the remote in both hands as the screen flickered into life.
There was no mistaking the face of the bald elderly man that filled the screen as he adjusted the lens. Ainsley Gosling grunted and took a step back, frowning as he studied the camera. His scalp was dotted with liver spots and scabs, and he was wearing the same crimson dressing gown he’d had on for the first DVD they had watched. Gosling turned his back on the camera and waddled over to his bed, then grunted as he sat down, wrapping the gown around his massive stomach. He was holding an opened bottle of brandy in his left hand.
‘This was made at the same time as the other video he sent you,’ said Jenny.
‘I guess it’s a PS,’ said Nightingale, flicking ash into the crystal ashtray by his computer terminal.
Gosling took a long pull at his brandy bottle, then wiped his mouth with his sleeve. ‘I don’t know why I’m doing this,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘There’s no way you can possibly be alive to see this. By now you’re burning in Hell and cursing the day you were born.’ He took another drink, then held the bottle out in front of him. ‘Half empty or half full? What do you think, Jack? Are you an optimist, or a pessimist?’ He laughed harshly. ‘Not that it matters, not if you’re in Hell.’ He ran his hand over his scalp. ‘So, are you dead or alive, Jack? If you’re dead then this is a waste of time and the DVD will have been destroyed. But maybe, just maybe, you managed to find a way to survive.’ He leaned forward and stared at the camera with watery eyes. ‘Maybe you’re a chip off the old block,’ he growled. ‘Are you, Jack? You’ve got my genes, have you got my guile? Did you manage to pull a rabbit out of the hat at the last minute?’
‘I did, actually,’ said Nightingale.
Gosling took another gulp of brandy. ‘Okay, if you are watching this, Jack, then you did the impossible. You did what I couldn’t do. Somehow you managed to beat Proserpine.’ Gosling chuckled. ‘Even as I say that, I realise how stupid I sound.’ He shook his head. ‘I’m rambling. Sorry.’ He forced a smile at the camera. ‘I’ve been under a bit of pressure, as you can imagine. Here’s what happened. Proserpine gave me knowledge. That was the deal I struck. Access to Satanic secrets in exchange for your soul. She kept her side of the bargain and most of what I achieved in my life stemmed from the deal I did with her.’ He took a swig from the bottle. ‘Hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?’ he continued. ‘Of course now I know that everything I have, everything I had, is worthless compared with what I lost. I tried to get out of the deal, I tried to get your soul back, but she wouldn’t have it. A deal is a deal, and once done cannot be undone.’ He threw the bottle at the wall behind the camera and they heard it smash. Gosling sat on the bed, his head in his hands, then he slowly looked up at the camera again. ‘So, Jack, did you find some way of saving your soul?’ He leaned to the side and as he moved his dressing gown fell open to reveal a huge belly, with skin the colour of boiled chicken. Gosling sat up again and cradled a shotgun in his lap. ‘You can never win when you do a deal with the dark side, Jack. I know that now. It’s like when you go into a casino, you know. At the end of the day, the house always wins.’ He laughed again and his paunch jiggled. Gosling pulled his robe closed with his left hand and stared up at the ceiling. ‘I’m sorry, Jack. I’m so, so sorry for what I did to you and your sister.’
‘It’s a bit bloody late for sorry,’ muttered Nightingale.
Jenny flashed him a withering look.
‘What?’ said Nightingale. ‘Sorry doesn’t come close to making up for what he did.’
Gosling caressed the stock of the shotgun. ‘Okay, so this is what I need to tell you,’ he said. ‘Two years after I did the deal with Proserpine, I summoned another devil. Frimost. I gave Frimost your sister’s soul in exchange for power over women.’ He coughed and his massive belly wobbled under the robe. ‘I got what I wanted, all right. Got laid by some of the most beautiful women in the world. Names you’d know, Jack. Names that would make your eyes pop out of your head. The book I could have written, the stories I could tell.’ He shook his head. ‘There was a catch, of course. There’s always a catch. Frimost gave me the tools to get any woman I wanted, but took away the passion. Sex became a mechanical function, nothing more. I could get any woman I wanted but deep down I didn’t really want any of them.’ He grinned savagely, baring his yellow teeth. ‘That’s what they’re good at, the devils,’ he said. ‘They give with one hand and they take with the other.’ He put both hands on the shotgun. ‘You don’t realise that when you go into it, of course. They pull you in, they offer you the world, offer you whatever you want.’ He closed his eyes and shook his head. ‘I was so, so stupid.’
‘For God’s sake, get on with it,’ hissed Nightingale. ‘Tell me whatever it is that you want to tell me.’
Jenny pointed at the screen. ‘Jack, give it a rest will you? He’s going to kill himself, he’s terrified.’
‘I don’t care,’ said Nightingale coldly. ‘I hope he’s burning in Hell as we speak.’ He pointed at the screen. ‘This is all his doing, Jenny. Don’t expect me to feel sorry for him.’
Gosling opened his eyes. ‘I tried to find her, Jack. I moved heaven and earth to find her but…’ He shook his head and sighed. ‘I don’t know her name, I don’t even know if she’s still in the country. I gave her to a man who helped me from time to time. His name was Karl, Karl Wilson.’
Nightingale reached for a pen and scribbled down the name.
‘He’s dead,’ Gosling went on. ‘I found that out two years ago.’
Nightingale threw down the pen as Gosling continued to talk. ‘He poured petrol over himself and set himself on fire. I don’t know why. Maybe he just wanted to end it, or maybe it was Frimost shutting the door, but, whatever the reason, he was dead and he was the only one who knew where she was.’ He rubbed his face. ‘I don’t even know why I’m telling you this, Jack. What’s the point? Even if you’ve managed to save yourself there’s nothing you can do for the girl.’ He sighed and looked down at the shotgun. ‘It’s time,’ he said. ‘It’s time for me to do what has to be done.’ He moaned. ‘Oh God, oh God, I’m so sorry.’
‘Tell me something,’ said Nightingale. ‘Give me something I can use.’
Gosling looked back at the camera, almost as if he had heard Nightingale. ‘I spoke to Wilson’s son and he allowed me to look through his father’s effects but there was nothing there that helped, no clue as to what he’d done with the girl. Knowing Wilson, he probably sold the baby and spent the money on coke. He had a bit of a taste for the old white powder.’ He shrugged. ‘Maybe you’re better off just forgetting her. If you did manage somehow to escape Proserpine, then maybe you should just enjoy your life. She was never your problem, Jack. She was my problem and I have to live with the consequences.’ His face was bathed with sweat and he wiped it away with his right hand. ‘You need to talk to Alfie Tyler; he’ll be able to put you in touch with the Order of Nine Angles. He was my driver for a good many years. Tell Alfie that I sent you. And thank him for getting the first DVD to you. Assuming you got that, it was Alfie who put the envelope in the house. And I’m giving him my Bentley. Tell him to keep it serviced.’ Gosling ran a hand over his bald scalp. ‘The time thing is messing with my head. I’m here telling you this, but by the time you got the first disc I was dead. I’m deader by now but if you are watching this then you know that everything I said was true. Okay, I’ll finish this now. It’ll be Alfie who finds my body. I’m leaving him a note explaining what he’s to do. He’ll make a DVD of the first tape and put it in a safe deposit box for you and leave a key in the house. I’ll get him to lodge this second DVD with a law firm in the City. They’ll get it to you a few days after your thirty-third birthday.’ He smiled ruefully. ‘Happy birthday, by the way,’ he said.
‘Ha bloody ha,’ said Nightingale.
‘Jack, these are your father’s last words to you,’ said Jenny.
‘He isn’t my father.’
‘Half of your genes came from him; it’s his DNA that made you.’
‘That doesn’t make him my father,’ said Nightingale. He waved his hand at the television screen. ‘He used me as a bargaining chip – that’s all I was to him. So don’t expect me to start crying now because he killed himself.’
Gosling slid off the bed, cradling the shotgun. He waddled over to the camera and his robe fell open again as he groped for the ‘stop’ button. The last thing Nightingale saw before the screen went blank was an expanse of white, mottled flesh.
‘Can you believe that?’ said Nightingale. ‘He sold his daughter’s soul so that he could get laid.’
‘That’s men for you,’ said Jenny.
‘I’m serious,’ said Nightingale. ‘What sort of shit would sell his child’s soul for sex?’
Jenny stood up. ‘Anyway, he’s dead. That’s the end of it.’
Nightingale ran a hand through his hair. ‘It would have been nice if he’d told me where my sister was.’
‘You heard what he said. He doesn’t know. Didn’t know. If he’d known he’d have told you. But at least we know who he sold her soul to. Frimost. Have you heard that name before?’
Nightingale shook his head. ‘We should check in Gosling’s library. With all those books on the occult there’s bound to be something about Frimost.’ He looked at his watch. ‘Do you want to come with me?’
‘It’s your call. You pay my wages. Most months, anyway.’
‘Just leave the answering machine on. The run-up to Christmas and New Year is always a quiet time for private detectives. It’s after the festive season that the phone starts ringing off the hook.’