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it's the little things that get you

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There are a number of good reasons I didn’t notice Nightingale coming down with something that February. Firstly, we were in the middle of the security clearances for the new civilian staff, secondly, we were in the middle of building the Annex in the courtyard, and thirdly, he’s my boss, not the other way around. If I notice that he’s actually making use of his handkerchief and he tells me that it’s nothing to worry about, I take him at his word.

“I don’t know why you’re telling me all this,” Sahra said. I was taking a break from administrative work I wasn’t even technically senior enough to be doing. My cunning method of taking a break was dragging Sahra along to investigate an almost certainly spurious report of supernatural activity in Epping Forest. Sahra was with me because these days, with Martin Chorley and Lesley running amuck, we couldn’t be too careful. And also, I was about ninety percent sure, because Beverley had told her that Zach Palmer had said that there were unicorns in Epping Forest, and somewhere very deep in Sahra lurked a nine-year-old girl who really wanted to see a unicorn. (It was one of three things she had in common with Stephanopoulos. The others were being really good at their jobs, and really frustrated by magic.)

The other ten percent of me knew Sahra had insisted on coming because of the aforementioned ethically challenged practitioners thing, but we couldn’t worry about that all day every day. It’d do our heads in.

“I just got a text from Abdul,” I said, waving my phone at her before shoving it back in my pocket. It was sleeting, and miserable, and we were walking back to the car having found nothing more exciting than some empty bottles of surprisingly expensive alcohol. “He’s going to tell me off as soon as we get back. I thought I’d get my side of the story in first.”

“Why is it your fault if your boss gets sick?”

“That’s what I’m saying!”

This entirely reasonable view didn’t cut any ice with Dr Walid, who, as predicted, ambushed me as soon as I arrived at the Folly. Sahra had made me drop her off at Belgravia, allegedly to do paperwork, but I think actually in case she got caught in the cross-fire.

“You know he’s prone to chest infections,” Walid said, glowering at me. “And I hear he was out until all hours last week.”

“This may come as a shock,” I said, “but the way things work around here is that he’s supposed to tell me what to do. There was a potential sighting of Chorley. No way he’s letting me take that one by myself, whatever the weather’s doing.”

Walid muttered under his breath and left me with a list of instructions about Nightingale’s treatment, which I promptly handed to Molly, who promptly handed it back, because he’d been ahead of me there and given her a copy as well. As a gesture of goodwill, I texted Bev and told her that I’d be coming over late, and stayed for dinner.

Predictably, Molly had reverted to culinary form upon hearing that Nightingale was sick, though there were still a number of vegetables that hadn’t darkened the doors of the average Edwardian kitchen served up with the roast. I counted that as progress.

“You mustn’t pay too much attention to Abdul,” Nightingale said over dinner. “It’s just a winter cold.”

He spoiled the effect by coughing discreetly into his hand. He also wasn’t drinking his wine, which was probably a horrific waste, given the contents of the Folly’s cellars. (I’d made the mistake of Googling a bottle Molly had brought out for my birthday once and had to go lie down for a bit once I saw what it went for these days. At least if the dead wizard investment fund ever ran out we’d have something to fall back on.)

“Well, he’s a gastroenterologist, I don’t know why we even call him in for these things,” I said, innocently.

Nightingale opened his mouth to correct me, realised the trap he was about to walk into, covered it by taking a sip of his untouched wine, and went off into a full-on coughing fit. He snatched up his napkin and covered his mouth, but I could still hear deep, unpleasant, chesty noises. They signalled that his lungs were very unhappy with him and also life in general. For the first time I started to feel a tug of worry, but he waved me off when I made to stand up. It eased after a few seconds.

“Maybe you should plan to take it easy tomorrow,” I said. “I’ll give your excuses at the meeting. There’s nothing else you need to leave the Folly for.”

“Alexander’s not going to appreciate that.” Nightingale sensibly drank some of his water, instead of the wine. The coughing had left him pale, which in mid-winter was a pretty ghostly shade. And I say this from direct observation of ghosts.

“They just had the ‘flu go around,” I said. “I don’t think anybody’s going to object to good quarantine practice.” Sahra had said Stephanopoulos had had to come out for a murder before she’d recovered from her own bout and been absolutely miserable – both for herself and to deal with.

“I suppose you’re right.” He sighed, and it didn’t quite turn into another cough. “What a bloody nuisance.”

*

The meeting at Belgravia was early, so I went straight there from Bev’s. Richard Folsom made it drag on twice as long as it needed to with lots of pointed comments about our lack of progress. Of course he wasn’t getting the full story, because he wasn’t in the inner circle of people we were completely sure of, but on the other hand he wasn’t really wrong. We had no idea where Chorley or Lesley were, and we were getting dangerously close to having to ‘take a proactive approach’ (what I said in the meeting), or, in Seawoll’s words, ‘start poking things and seeing what blows up in our faces.’ Then he’d given me a look that was less dirty than it could have been and added ‘If only that was metaphorical.’

By the time I got to the Folly, it was lunchtime. I found Nightingale in the courtyard talking to one of the workers building our annex for the new civilian staff; something about access being blocked for our vehicles for the rest of the afternoon. He looked like absolute shit, which is not his normal state of affairs. It had to be close to freezing outside with the wind chill. I talked him back in and down to the kitchen under the pretext of having a cup of tea and filling him in on the meeting. The change in temperature set off another coughing fit I had to pretend not to notice, for the sake of his dignity.

Molly gave me an absolutely filthy look, as if I’d had anything to do with him leaving the building, and indicated that someone needed to take Toby for a walk and that someone had better be me. Oh well; I could eat lunch while I did paperwork.

The trouble was that we were just too busy for Nightingale to be sick. He was insisting on two hours of training every day, and was less and less forgiving of any mistakes I made. Not that he’d ever gone easy on me, or anyone, but his sense of humour about my questions – and I only vocalized the logical and well-timed ones, of course – had just about evaporated. With Chorley a known quantity, and known to be capable of fairly serious levels of destruction, the rest of the Met was taking any potential magical crime very seriously indeed. That added up to a lot of work for us. Sahra was still pretending she couldn’t detect vestigia, at least I think she was pretending. With Sahra I’m not always sure what she knows or doesn’t. I do know she’s been seeing Michael Cheung. If I was dating a practitioner from another tradition – but then again, as Lesley might have told me if she wasn’t busy being a henchwoman, not everybody is me.

I didn’t get to the paperwork, or my lunch, because as soon as I got back from walking Toby a call came in from DCI Duffy. She was connected to Operation Jennifer via the still officially unsolved and unofficially stomach-churning Patrick Mulkern case, so calls from her got a higher level of priority. She had a crime scene she wanted me to look at – not a murder, which was a relief, but a burglary involving old books. That was one of the things on our list to keep a closer eye on. You can’t learn magic from books but you can learn a lot about what’s possible from them, or what people think is possible anyway, and we’d cut Chorley off from access to his impressive stashes of magical literature. Postmartin was having enormous fun cataloguing it all. Nice to know someone was having fun somewhere – and I mean that.

In this case, though, while I did end up getting an actually quite interesting lecture from a nice old Asian lady on sixteenth-century India’s trade connections with Europe via the Ottoman Empire, there wasn’t anything magical about the books or the burglary. Or at least not that I could link to Chorley, and Professor Singh didn’t give any of the usual tells when I said my name, or Nightingale’s, or even Helena Linden-Limmer’s, and I had to do some impressive conversational backflips to work that last one in, so that was a disappointment. I wrote the good professor down on my other list, of people who might possibly be connected to magic in some way and we therefore might want to ask for help one day, and headed back to the Folly.

That list stays in my notebook, the bits that aren’t in my head. I’m not stupid.

When I got back Nightingale had been lured back out into the courtyard by a discussion of drainage and looked even more like absolute crap than he had in the morning – more than he had since he’d last been in a hospital bed. So I did the only sensible thing: I called Dr Walid back.

“I seem to recall giving you a very specific list of things he should and shouldn’t be doing until that cough clears up,” Walid said when he arrived.

“Did you try giving it to him?”

Walid muttered something under his breath and stalked off to find Nightingale. He popped his head into the mundane library, where I was wrestling with an unnecessarily obscure late nineteenth-century Latin treatise on fifth-order adjectivae, to inform me that Nightingale was to, and I quote, “stay in bed and not do anything silly”.

“Got it,” I said.

“Bribe him with podcasts or find some YouTube videos of the greatest tackles in the last Rugby World Cup,” Walid said. “Whatever works.”

“I don’t think he’s figured out YouTube yet.”

“That’s what you’re for,” Walid informed me, which I thought was a highly reductionist take on my role at the Folly, but he didn’t stick around for me to tell him so.

“Why are you letting him out?” I asked Molly the next morning at breakfast. I’d fallen asleep over my Latin, and never made it back to Bev’s. Nightingale had appeared only long enough to pick at half a piece of toast and then muttered something about a meeting; I’d heard him coughing in the hall. “Just because he lives here doesn’t mean he’s at work the entire time.”

Molly gave me a look that somehow conveyed, in about half a second, not only that of course Nightingale considered himself to be available for work whenever work called, but that he considered the same applied to me, and I should probably feel very lucky I had Bev’s to run away to whenever I wanted to really commit to the concept of the weekend. (Not the forty-hour week. That doesn’t happen when you’re a police officer, no matter how many seminars they give on burnout.)

“He’s going to put himself back on antibiotics if he’s not careful,” I said. “You know what Dr Walid said about chest infections.”

This brought a frown to Molly’s face; finally.

“He must take holidays,” I said, scrabbling, even though I’d been at the Folly for four years and knew damn well that he didn’t, unless you counted the time he’d spent in hospital recovering from getting shot. I didn’t, and I was sure Molly didn’t either. “Or – is there somewhere we could send him? Just to get him away. A rest cure.”

Molly folded her arms and stared thoughtfully at the coffee pot, which, this being the Folly, was silver polished to such a sheen I could see another Molly in it, staring back out at me. It wasn’t really a look I wanted directed at me.

Eventually she pickpocketed my phone, too fast for me to issue more than a token protest, and brought up Google Maps. When she handed it back to me, it was centred on a very specific spot near a waterway called – you’ve guess it – Beverley Brook.

“I’m not sure Bev will go for that,” I said.

Molly’s shrug indicated that, as Beverley Brook’s official boyfriend, that was my problem. Then she continued to stand there, so I called Bev.

“Any chance I can stash the boss in one of your spare rooms until he’s not dying any longer?” I said.

“I told you not to catch anything,” Bev said, “not to bring the person you might be catching things from to my place.”

“Turns out it’s really hard to take sick leave when you live where you work. The proposition here is that the sooner he stops coughing his lungs up, the less likely I am to catch it.” A thought struck me. “And the quicker he gets back to work and I can come home in the evenings.”

“Come home, is it?” Bev sounded amused, but in an indulgent way.

“You know what I mean,” I said quickly. “So -”

“I’m not tidying up,” she warned me. “And I’m at uni all day today, so you get what you get.”

“Of course,” I said, and after exchanging suitably affectionate farewells, hung up and called Maksim, Beverley’s one and only acolyte. Bev thinks I find it weird when she gets Maksim to clean her house. I do find it weird, because I’m still not totally clear on how free will works vis a vis the whole acolyte thing – look at Uncle Bailiff, Mama Thames’ former neo-Nazi man of all trades – and because Maksim’s a lot better with protective wetland planting than he is with a vacuum cleaner. Given that his former profession was Russian mafia henchman, Bev’s probably lucky he’s good at either of those things, and on balance she cares a lot more about the wetlands. But even I recognise an emergency situation, especially given where we were on the periodic evolutionary cycle of Bev’s fridge.

“Sure, no problem,” said Maksim. “And it will make Lady Beverley very happy if she doesn’t have to pretend she’s not asking me to do these things anymore.”

“Please don’t call her Lady Beverley when you’re talking to me.”

I didn’t tell him that I knew every time Bev had got him to do any cleaning because he never paid any attention to the skirting boards, having not had the benefit of being brought up by a professional cleaner. It might have hurt his feelings.

Then I squared my shoulders, summoned my sense of duty, and called Seawoll to tell him Nightingale couldn’t make the meeting today, either.

“There better be a bloody good reason he’s not telling me that himself,” growled Seawoll, who had made a surprising number of approving noises recently about us getting more staff. If I squinted, it might even look like he didn’t think of me as junior enough to be saddled with any task going anymore. But only if I squinted.

“He doesn’t know yet. He’s got a chest infection.”

“Tell him he’s not allowed to die before we’ve got Chorley in one of those fancy new cells,” Seawoll advised me. He really had softened up on us since October. It was a bit of a worry.

I found Nightingale in the reading room, his eyes closed. He’s got an uncanny ability to wake up in an instant so I never assume that means anything, but he didn’t move as I approached. I thought about checking his temperature, but then I thought better of it and put a hand on his shoulder instead. I was prepared for him to sit up, like he normally would, but instead he blinked awake in slow-motion.

I informed him of my plan.

He frowned. “Do you really think that’s necessary?”

It wasn’t a no, which was all the answer I needed.

“We’ll take the Jag, shall we?” I said, and he didn’t even give me a dry look, which is how I knew he was feeling as bad as he looked. That and the fact that he fell asleep again on the drive. I gave it a minute after I’d pulled into Bev’s driveway and turned the car off, but he didn’t stir. I went to shake him awake again, and somehow found my hand against his forehead. Not a high fever, but I didn’t like it.

He blinked, and I snatched my hand back, in case he got the impression that I was worried or something un-English like that.

“Come on,” I said. “About fifteen more metres and you can go back to sleep.” I stayed about a foot behind him between the car and the house. There was some alarming wobbling going on, which of course for Nightingale meant any wobbling at all. That didn’t make it not alarming.

“I think I’ll just,” he said when I showed him the guest room – Maksim’s bed-making skills left a lot to be desired – and I would have fixed it but then he sat down, yawned, and executed a remarkably controlled sag onto the pillow.

I put his legs up on the bed for the good of his lower back, his overnight bag on the floor beside him, and fetched a glass of water for the bedside table just in case. Then I left, because with him out for the count there was stuff I had to do. At least his temperature seemed about the same. I went back to the Folly and got into a two-hour debate with the data analysts about exactly how separate from the main police systems this investigation was going to be. I wondered if they’d have taken it better from Nightingale, for many systemic and tiresome reasons, but decided probably not. On balance, between the two of us I was the one who knew what a database was.

Molly sent me back to Bev’s that evening with so much food that I could barely fit it all in the boot of the Hyundai. She clearly hadn’t heard the old wives’ saying about starving a fever. I didn’t dare take it in the Jag; most of it was soup and I’d be banned for the Jag from the next decade if that spilled. When I got home Nightingale was still asleep, but he’d managed to get himself under the covers and out of his suit at some point, so he wasn’t doing too badly. It was hanging on the end of the bed; I fetched a couple of coat hangers from upstairs so it could hang on the door handle properly. When you’re sick like that it’s the small things that matter.

Bev was doing something that required her to leave textbooks scattered like landmines across the living room floor. The gaps were filled with printouts of scientific articles. It was a good thing I hadn’t brought Toby with us, then.

“Hi, babes,” she said. “I think he might sleep through the whole evening, he didn’t even move when I looked in. Did Molly send a care package?”

“Molly sent the entire contents of her kitchen,” I said, after a second to process. I hadn’t expected Bev to check on Nightingale. “Or something along those lines. I had to chuck that leftover pizza.”

Bev gave me an annoyed look. “I was saving that.”

“It was four days old.” I made space for myself on the floor next to her. “Don’t worry – there’s plenty as long as you like soup.”

“Mmmm,” Bev said dubiously, but she kissed me hello as she got up and wandered towards the kitchen, so apparently I was forgiven for my callous pizza disposal.

*

Dr Walid arrived the next morning as I was about to leave.

“You do house calls here too?” I asked him.

“When necessary for best practice,” he said, but I knew he was just taking the excuse to be nosy about Bev’s house. Jennifer Vaughan had made me describe it to both of them once while we were waiting for some autopsy results, but Walid had never been here before.

“Last on the left, but I’m not sure he’s awake yet.” I’d left Nightingale a note about the soup, a glass of water, and a selection of painkillers. I didn’t think it was fair to make him deal with the contents of Bev’s medicine cabinet, which was mostly hair products she hadn’t used for two years. Also he’d be too polite to go looking and suffer in silence.

“I don’t really need him to be awake,” said Walid, which was in the top five most disturbing things he’d ever said to me.

I called back in at lunchtime on the pretext that I’d left my tablet there. In preparation for Nightingale not believing this, I actually had left it on the couch. Bev had tried to give it back to me twice before she’d left for uni. I expected that he might be asleep again. I definitely wasn’t prepared for the sight of him sitting at Bev’s kitchen table, wearing the dressing gown Molly had packed for him, talking with my mother.

“What are you doing here?” she greeted me, like any loving West African mother would.

“Forgot my tablet,” I said. “It’s good to see you too, Mum.”

“It’s on the couch,” Nightingale said. “Beverley said I should be sure to point that out to you, in case you lost it for the third time today.” His poker face is good, but not so good I didn’t know I’d been rumbled.

“Oh, thanks,” I said, to keep up appearances.

“You can make the tea,” my mother instructed me. “If you’ve come all this way for something that small, five more minutes won’t matter.”

She was wrong but I know my priorities, so I made us all tea while Nightingale told her how kind of her it was to visit, and that everybody was making far too much of a fuss, and that he’d had an excellent night’s sleep and might even be back at work this afternoon. Mum caught my eye – I was standing behind him waiting for the kettle to boil – and I shook my head vigorously.

“You can’t will these things away,” said the woman who never took a day off work unless she couldn’t get out of bed, which is what you have to do when you have a small child and a husband who won’t get out of bed. “It’s very sensible of you to rest up. And so kind of Beverley to let you stay here.”

“Indeed. I suspect a conspiracy,” said Nightingale, turning to look at me.

“That’ll be the fever causing paranoia,” I said, and went to get the milk. Opening the fridge revealed several containers I knew Mum must have brought with her, which meant firstly that there was going to be extra jollof rice, and secondly that Mum had seen the inside of Bev’s fridge and I was going to hear about it later. I did – in fact she left me with a list of instructions about what needed doing in the kitchen. I considered pointing out that this wasn’t even my house, really, but one of the things you learn in the police is when to say nothing. It saves a lot of trouble later on.

*

Mum was gone by the time I got home that evening, which hadn’t necessarily been a given, but then again she had both an African mother’s disdain for the reality of any illness less serious than cancer, and definite feelings about not coming down with it. So she’d probably wanted to limit her time in the infection zone. Beverley had said she had River business and that I didn’t need to know the details but she might tell me later if it worked out, which was not as reassuring as I think she thought it was. She also filled me in on Nightingale’s progress to an extent which sounded like they’d chatted for more than thirty seconds when she’d come back home to change. Now that was a conspiracy to be worried about.  

Nightingale had hijacked her television to watch rugby, so he must be feeling a bit better. He was in a dressing gown, though, so not that much better.

“I see you figured out the remote,” I said. “Or did Bev set you up?”

“It’s hardly that complicated, Peter,” he snapped back, and then coughed for a half a minute into his elbow.

“Glad to hear it,” I said when he was done. I probably sounded testy, but then he deserved it. “Are you up for something to eat?” If I called it ‘dinner’ he’d probably insist on coming and eating at the table or something.

He cleared his throat, a miserable sound. “Yes. Thank you.” One more cough. “Sorry.”

“I’ll see what Mum left us,” I said, but before I left I grabbed the other remote and turned the proper speakers on, just to make it clear I still had the upper hand on the whole technology thing.

*

Bev got back while I was still heating up food – I was staring at the microwave going through paperwork in my head, and didn’t notice until she put her chin on my shoulder and asked me what was for dinner.

“Who says this is for you?”

She kissed the side of my face, ignoring my end-of-day stubble, with just a hint of teeth. “Because this is my house?”

“I suppose we can work something out.” I turned around in her arms to kiss her properly. “Good news, too: our patient is up to figuring out the TV remote.”

“Good. I can’t have the Nightingale getting more sick in my house - imagine what that would look like.”

“It’s not like I’d tell anybody.”

“It’s the principle of the thing.” She pursed her lips, in an expression that was weirdly reminiscent of Ty. It weirds me out when Bev reminds me of Ty at close range. Probably as much as it annoys Ty that Bev and I are still an item despite her best elder-sister Your Romance Is Doomed talk.

“You haven’t told your sisters he’s here, right?”

Bev frowned at me for a second, trying to follow my train of thought – she’s better at it than almost anybody else, but frankly it’s a challenge from within my own head sometimes - then her face cleared. “Nah, I don’t need that grief.”

We had a quiet evening in, especially Nightingale who fell asleep well before the end of the match.

“So much easier to have over than Nicky,” Bev murmured to me. “Effra tried to send her over but I told her next week – the last thing we need is her catching anything.”

“I bet nobody in your family even gets sick.”

“Of course we get sick,” she scoffed.

“Even your Mum?”

She shrugged. “I don’t remember her ever being sick.” Then her eyes narrowed. “No, you can’t ask her.”

“I know better than that,” I said, in tones of appropriate injury at this misjudgement of my diplomatic capabilities, and made a note to ask Oberon sometime – he’d been around long enough, and it was the sort of thing he might not mind answering.

Bev made a sceptical-sounding noise, and shifted around a bit so I could put my arm around her. The light from the TV flickered on Nightingale’s sleeping face.

It reminded me a bit of the early days in the Folly when it’d just been me and him and Molly rattling around the place, and he’d watch the rugby while I mucked around on my laptop. I couldn’t remember the last time that had happened. We didn’t seem to have a lot of time for quiet evenings these days.

On the other hand, I hadn’t had Bev snuggled against me back then, so you couldn’t say there weren’t some compensations.

*

When I left Bev’s on the third day, Nightingale was noticeably on the mend, and the weather was clearing as well. Bev doesn’t get the paper, and if she did get it, it wouldn’t be the Telegraph, but he was doing the Telegraph crossword nevertheless. I checked – it was that morning’s paper. I decided to mark it up to magic. The metaphorical kind.

“Beverley indicated she had some professional business to attend to before her classes,” he said, which I’d figured out for myself, since she was gone and so were her wetsuit and waterproof backpack. “I hadn’t expected her to be up that early.”

“Her hours are almost as weird as ours,” I said. “Is there any coffee left?”

“I suppose there might be.” He handed me the pot with a small smile, like he’d won a private bet with himself. Not a very risky one, as he should have known.

“You should make sure to get some practice in,” he added, as I filled my travel mug. “I don’t recall you mentioning any recently.”

“You sound a lot better,” I said.

“I’ll take that as acquiescence to instructions.”

“Don’t I always?” I sent as a parting shot. Actually I had been slacking off a bit on practice, but – you can only throw so many fireballs before it gets depressing, and there was so much more paperwork these days. Not even counting Latin and Greek practice, which I was principally motivated to keep up by fear of Abigail.

It was sort of a relief, in a way, to go down to the firing range and not think about anything else.

When I left the firing range and turned my phone back on, I discovered I’d missed a call from Lady Ty, although she hadn’t left a message. Two years ago I would have waited for her to call me again, but these days I know that she hates leaving voicemails and is a lot easier to deal with if you just return the call. I’m not supposed to know that, because it’s too much like personal interaction, but she can’t stop Bev telling me things.

Ty greeted me with an air of cool inquiry – about the usual. “Peter. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“You called me. Sorry – I was in the firing range.”

“Yes, I suppose you don’t want to lose yet another phone this year.” The trouble is – I can’t stop Bev telling her things, either. Not anything properly secret, but blowing up yet another mobile phone? Doesn’t even slightly count as secret, per Bev. “Were you under supervision?”

“The boss is down with a bit of a cold,” I said, skipping over things like antibiotics and house visits from Dr Walid. “But I promise nothing got blown up that wasn’t meant to.”

Ty made a small, impatient noise. “I suppose that means he is at my sister’s. Can’t he die quietly in the Folly?”

“It’s not that bad, but you do realise we have an entire building going up in the courtyard, and Chorley on the loose, and - which is not an invitation for you to come and harass our analysts.”

“I promise you I have better things to do.” Her tone, horrifyingly, thawed a touch. “I suppose you really can’t afford to let anything happen to him right now.”

“I’m touched that you think I control what happens to the Nightingale,” I shot back after five seconds that ticked on like years. Ty made an almost undignified snorting noise. We went another couple of rounds for the sake of things, because Ty likes to remind us both where she thinks she stands, before I finally got her off the phone. I shoved it in my pocket and stared at the wall for a minute. The problem was, she was right. Take Nightingale away, and whatever Chorley was up to – well, we had all the might of the Met in action now, but on the other hand there was Lesley, too. Let’s just say I wasn’t sure I rated my chances.

I needed to stop letting Ty get into my head. You’d think I’d know better after all this time.

Nightingale came back to the Folly late that afternoon. I got his attention once Molly had finished scrutinizing him – she glided off with a satisfied nod, so he had to be better.

“How’d you get here?” I asked.

“Beverley’s outside in her car,” he said. “It was, ah, a very speedy trip all things considered. She really has been very accommodating.” He coughed into his elbow, but it wasn’t the horrible hacking of the past few days, just a normal cough.

I made noises of agreement. Bev doesn’t really like driving that much; Nightingale hates being driven; I could imagine a lot of ways that could have gone wrong. On the other hand, there weren’t any grumpy texts from Bev on my phone, so it couldn’t have been that bad.

“Ty was calling up wanting to know where you were, so probably a good thing you’re back.”

“I can’t imagine she’d be very happy if I died at her sister’s house.” His eyes glinted with humour. “Better here.”

“You’re not dying,” I scoffed. “And nobody actually wants you to. Except Martin Chorley.”

“I think you’re being over-generous, as well as under-reassuring.” Definitely feeling better, then, if he was going to mock me like that.

“It’s just that I’ve still got half a notebook of questions you haven’t answered.”

Nightingale smiled slightly. “Oh, I’m sure you’d get your answers somewhere. You have a certain well of resourcefulness in that direction.”

“Yes, but you promised,” I said, and then immediately regretted it because it made me sound about ten years old.

Nightingale looked down. “The important thing is that you would manage, you know. I don’t have any doubt.”

“Except for Chorley,” I had to point out.

“We’ll get him, one way or another. It’s a question of time.”

“In one of those cells in Belgravia,” I said, not because I didn’t think he meant that, but just because sometimes it’s good to say exactly what you mean.

“Yes, Peter,” Nightingale said, his eyes crinkling even though the rest of his face stayed straight. “In one of those cells.”

“It’s just going to be easier if you don’t cough yourself to death anytime soon,” I persisted. “Maybe take a holiday now and again. We could trade off.”

He took a severe tone. “When the job’s done.” Then he looked at his watch. “On the other hand – I don’t think there’s anything pressing right now, and I expect you have plans for the evening. It being Friday.”

“I might,” I said. I did have plans. They involved driving to Beverley’s and ordering something to eat. That was about all the excitement I was up to.

“Go on, then. Tell Beverley thank you again for her hospitality, and I’ll see you on Monday.” I mumbled something about him not overdoing it over the weekend and headed for the door, in case he changed his mind.

“And, Peter -”

I turned back. “Yeah?”

“Thank you.”

“Seriously. Don’t die.”

“Not planning on it,” he said, and made a shooing motion. “Really. Go on. Bev's waiting.”

I grinned. “Alright. I’m going.”