The Hanging Tree

The Hanging Tree

(The sixth book in the PC Peter Grant series)

A novel by Ben Aaronovitch

This book is dedicated to all librarians everywhere – for they are the true keepers of the secret flame and not to be trifled with

Through the streets our wheels slowly move;

The toll of the death bell dismays us.

With nosegays and gloves we are deck’d,

So trim and so gay they array us.

The passage all crowded we see

With maidens that move us with pity;

Our air all, admiring agree

Such lads are not left in the city.

Oh! Then to the tree I must go;

The judge he has ordered the sentence.

And then comes a gownsman you know,

And tells a dull tale of repentance.

By the gullet we’re ty’d very tight;

We beg all spectators, pray for us.

Our peepers are hid from the light,

The tumbril shoves off, and we morrice.

Tyburn ballad as transcribed by Francis Place

1

One of Sir Roger’s Lesser Works

I dreamt that I heard Mr Punch laughing gleefully by my ear, but when I woke I realised it was my phone. I recognised the number on the screen and so wasn’t surprised by the cool, posh voice that spoke when I answered.

‘Peter,’ said Lady Ty, ‘do you remember when we spoke at Oxford Circus?’

I remembered her finding me after I’d managed to get myself buried under the platform. I remembered her leaning over me once they’d dug me out, her breath smelling of nutmeg and saffron.

‘One day I will ask you for a favour. And do you know what your response will be?’

‘Yes ma’am,’ I said, remembering what I’d said then. ‘No ma’am – three bags full, ma’am.’

It was five in the morning – still dark – and rain was smattering against the French windows at the far end of Beverley’s bedroom. The only serious light came from the screen of my phone. The other half of the big bed was empty – I was alone.

‘One of my daughter’s friends has had an accident,’ said Lady Ty. ‘I want you to ensure my daughter is not implicated in the subsequent investigation.’

Oh shit, I thought. That kind of favour.

She gave me the address and what she knew of the circumstances.

‘You want me to prove your daughter wasn’t involved?’ I said.

‘You misunderstand,’ said Lady Ty. ‘I don’t care what her involvement is – I want her kept out of the case.’

She really had no idea what she was asking for, but I knew better than to try and explain.

‘Understood,’ I said.

‘And Peter,’ said Lady Ty, ‘Nightingale is not to know about this – is that clear?’

‘Crystal,’ I said.

As soon as she hung up, I called the Folly.

‘I rather think I’d have to have taken an interest in any case,’ said Nightingale once I’d briefed him. ‘Still, I shall endeavour to adopt a façade of ignorance until such time as you need me.’ He paused and then said: ‘And you will let me know when that moment arrives.’ It was not a question.

‘Yes, sir,’ I said, and hung up wondering why everyone felt the need to be so emphatic at this time of the morning.

Beverley owns both halves of a 1920’s semi-detached house on Beverley Avenue in SW20. It’s a strange place, half-furnished and underused. Beverley told me when I first visited that she ‘sort of inherited it’ and hasn’t really decided what to do with the property yet. She sleeps in a ground floor room with easy access to the back garden. There’s just the Ikea bed with an incomprehensible name, two mismatched wardrobes, an antique mahogany chest of drawers and a Persian carpet that covers half the bare floorboards.

I reached out and felt the empty side of the bed – there was just a trace of warmth and a hint of oil on the pillow – Beverley had slipped away hours ago. I sighed, got out from under the warm duvet and shivered. The French windows were half open, letting in a cool breeze and the smell of rain. The bathroom upstairs didn’t have a shower so I had a quick bucket bath in the huge oval tub, which I knew from happy experience easily accommodated two people at once, and got dressed.

Everything related to operational matters in the Met is monitored. Which means you can’t just open your AWARE terminal and go fishing for information without having a damn good excuse.

So while I was buffing up my shoes I called DC Guleed, who I knew was doing the night shift in the Homicide Assessment car that week.

‘Hi Peter,’ she said. Behind her I could hear a hushed indoor ambience and people being professional.

I asked whether she’d heard of a shout in Knightsbridge, a suspicious drug-related death.

‘Why do you want to know?’ asked Guleed, which I suspected meant she was on the scene.

In the background I heard a vast and familiar Mancunian voice demanding to know who Guleed was talking to – DCI Alexander Seawoll. Who, as SIO, shouldn’t even be out of bed until the Homicide Assessment Team had finished their work.

‘It’s Peter,’ she called back. ‘He wants to know about our suspicious death.’

‘Tell him if it’s not one of his he can fuck off,’ said Seawoll.

‘Do you have an interest in this?’ asked Guleed.

‘There may be some related issues,’ I said, which was sort of true given that Tyburn’s daughter was involved. I heard Guleed pass this on and some grumbled swearing from Seawoll.

‘Tell him to get his arse down here pronto,’ he said.

‘He wants you to come in,’ said Guleed and gave me the address.

Before I left I switched off my phone and stepped out the back into the garden. The rain had eased to a misty drizzle that quickly beaded my hair and the leather of my jacket. Beverley’s garden is vast by London standards, running fifty metres down to the bank of the river, and twice as wide as her neighbours’. Despite the light pollution sullenly reflected off the low cloud, I decided not to risk tripping over the random bits of garden furniture I knew littered the overgrown lawn and conjured a werelight to show me the way.

Beverley Brook rises in Worcester Park in southeast London and flows through a ridiculous number of other parks, recreation grounds and golf courses before joining her mother at Barn Elms. She says that while she averages half a cubic metre of water per second, she’s had it up to six cubic metres per second a couple of times. And unless she gets some more care, attention and the occasional bottle of Junipero Gin, she’s not going to be responsible for where that surplus water’s going to end up.

Not a threat, you understand. But it’s wise not to take a river for granted – trust me on this.

At the end of Beverley’s garden is a bank fringed with young alder and ash striplings that drops down to the river. For most of its length Beverley Brook is shallow enough that you can clearly see the stones at the bottom, but here there was a deep pool overshadowed by a weeping willow. The surface was dark and coldly reflected my milky blue werelight as it bobbed around me in a slow orbit.

‘Hey, Bev,’ I called. ‘You in there?’

For all I knew she was kilometres away visiting her mum’s place in Wapping. Or patrolling the Thames for waifs and suicides, or whatever else it was she and her sisters spend their time searching for.

But she’s been known to surface when I’ve called her name, and once she leapt like a salmon, naked and glistening, into my arms – so it’s always worth a try.

This time there was no response. Just the drizzle and the grumble of the Kingston Bypass on the other side of the river. I waited about a minute, just so I could claim I’d waited five, and then headed back-up the garden.

I walked out via the side gate, past Beverley’s Kia Picanto to where the Orange Asbo was parked. Once inside I checked my evidence bag was in the back and that the Airwave charger was plugged in, started her up and headed for Knightsbridge.

* * *

One Hyde Park squatted next to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel like a stack of office furniture, and with all the elegance and charm of the inside of a photocopier. Albeit a brand new photocopier that doubled as a fax and a document scanner. Now, I have – as Beverley says – views about architecture. But there’s modern stuff I like. The Gherkin, the Lloyd’s building, even the Shard – despite the nagging feeling I get that Nazgûl should be roosting at the top. But the truth is that in the case of One Hyde Park my boy Sir Roger was definitely just putting in the hours for the pay check. It’s not ugly as such . . . it’s just not anything in particular. It is famously the most expensive block of flats in Britain, which just goes to show that property really is all about location, location, location.

The actual building is comprised of four towers that the brochures call ‘pavilions’ running between the Oriental Mandarin Hotel on the east side and the Edinburgh Gate into Hyde Park on the west. The north and south aspects are wedge-shaped ...

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