Special Thanks To: hobtheknife for proof-reading and suggestions about the Rivers of London characters and irisbleufic for betaing, Britpicking and gracious permission to use her original characters and situations.
Disclaimer: Messers. Pratchett and Gaiman (the Old Firm) own Aziraphale, Crowley, the ducks and the Bentley. Ben Aaronovitch owns Grant, Nightingale, Toby, Leslie, Murville and the Jag. irisbleufic owns Mandy, the talkative woman, the cottage ('Home'), the general geography and this particular use of "And your little dog, too." I own the Shiraz and I'm gonna drink it.
Author's Notes: The Man With a Gratuitously Small Dog, an original secondary character in irisbleufic's fic, The Walls, the Wainscot and the Mouse intrigued me for some reason. I asked her if this was someone I should recognize and she told me he wasn't modeled after anyone in particular. Then I re-read Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London and realized that's where I had read about a character who was capable of stepping into the role of The Man With a Gratuitously Small Dog: Inspector Thomas Nightingale. He has the same dress sense, the same posh accent, a professional interest in old books and a small dog. The plotbunny attacked me and lj user="irisbleufic" generously granted me permission to play in her Crown of Thorns 'Verse: irisbleufic dot livejournal dot com backslash 338350 dot html Go. Read.
In my determination to master the fireball spell to protect myself and maintain the Queen's Peace against the evil wizards seeking to harm both, I had made a New Year's resolution to spend more time on the basement firing range. Leslie had thoughtfully given me a stack of lurid zombie and werewolf targets at Christmas, reasoning that my accuracy might improve if I practiced trying to hit something I might actually see in the course of my job. And so that night I was sellotaping them over the brittle silhouettes of German soldiers left over from the last World War when Nightingale spoke from behind the firing line.
"Any plans for tomorrow?"
"I have a date with Pliny the Elder in the morning, and I promised to take Leslie to hear my dad's band later. Why?"
"I may have a lead on our unauthorized practitioners. When I visited friends over the holiday, I ran into someone at an antiques market, a rather talkative woman who was quite impressed with the esoteric books owned by her new neighbour. She told me his name was Fell and that he used to own a shop in London. I managed to get an introduction, but he slipped away before I could pursue the matter."
"You think he's a wizard?" I asked.
"There was definitely something...unusual about him. There is indeed a bookshop formerly owned by a Mr. Fell. His record is clean, although over the years his tax filings generated several inquiries. It seems the town hall will be hosting a new and used book sale to benefit the library this weekend, and I thought we might drive down to investigate."
"Fine with me," I said. I would have taken any excuse, really, to get out of Latin.
He nodded. "I'll see you at breakfast, then. Don't stay up too late practicing."
"I'll try not to make too much noise, sir."
"When the sound of your fireball can wake me from down here, Peter, it will be cause for celebration," he replied and went back upstairs.
The café was unusually busy, and Mandy was taking an order when Crowley walked in that Saturday. She looked up and caught his eye while he wiped slush from his boots; she held her pen straight up, and he nodded. The door opened behind him, and he hurried over to claim the empty table near the window. It was the middle of February and judging by the traffic outside everyone was tired of being cooped up by the weather. He shook out the newspaper and had just turned to the investment pages when she slipped a demitasse cup in front of him that was topped with a trembling dollop of whipped crème and freshly-grated cinnamon.
"Where's your other half this morning?" Mandy inquired with a smile that was already tired.
"Over at the hall, helping to organize the sale."
"Being around all those books might inspire him to think about opening a new business."
Crowley shook his head. "He's resisted much stronger temptations than that. Besides, he's always been more interested in collecting than selling, and the sorts of books that catch his interest are much older and more difficult to come by than anything that will have been donated to the sale."
She nodded seriously. "Like Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming."
"Yes, things like that," he agreed. "In fact, he's less likely to discover anything valuable today than I am to find a vintage car that would suit me better than my..."
They were both distracted by the low rumble of an engine in the street as a sleek, black vehicle pulled up to the kerb outside.
"Nice," said Mandy. "I wonder what model it is."
"It's a '67 Jaguar Mark II with a 3.8 litre XK6 engine." Crowley tore his eyes away, resolute. "Finish needs a bit of work and it probably doesn't have an iPod dock, but if you like that sort of thing I suppose it's all right." The sound of the finely engineered motor was replaced by a high-pitched, repetitive and distinctly annoying noise.
"And that's even nicer," she sighed, making him look again.
The passenger, a fit young man of indeterminate ethnicity, was pulling on a jacket by the open car door.
"Do I look a mess?" Mandy asked, breathlessly.
"You're fine," he assured her. He managed to make the compliment sound avuncular, and – strictly because it's what Aziraphale would have done - wished away a coffee stain from the front of her blouse and cleared up a stubborn blemish.
The driver's door opened and a small dog hurtled out of the Jag and dashed toward the Bentley in a blur of motion, yapping hysterically all the way.
"Toby!" The young man's voice had the sort of authority that was intended to cut through drunken stupors and the frenzy of mobs.i Police/i, Crowley decided. iAnd if that dog tries to mark the Bentley, a black cat is going to suddenly dart out from underneath and run, in an inviting manner, out into traffic. Preferably across the path of a lorry.../i
Before he could finish his revenge fantasy, the driver had stepped from the car and shut his door. Crowley got a good look at the all-too-familiar man, who watched the passenger slog through the slush and scoop up the short-haired terrier.
"Of all the cafés in all the world," Crowley muttered darkly as the two men began walking toward the door.
I ended up waiting on the sopping mat by the door holding Toby, who was still going on about whatever magic he sensed, while Nightingale went up to the counter and politely asked to see a menu. I scanned the café with my copper's eye, and the locals stared back at me with curiosity. The girl taking my governor's order gave me a sympathetic smile. She reminded me of one of Leslie's sisters and, with Toby still making an embarrassing racket in spite of my best efforts, I smiled back and shrugged an apology. I had just decided that the next forma Nightingale needed to teach me was the one he'd used once before to make Toby fall asleep - and that's when the dog suddenly lost his voice.
I sensed it as it happened: the barest whiff of something like gunpowder, accompanied by that infuriating sense of superiority that I was beginning to associate with evil wizards. Toby opened and closed his mouth a few more times without producing the desired result and then turned on me with a reproachful glare. Nightingale, still busy at the counter, glanced my way so I belatedly tried to trace the vestigium to its origin. I casually strolled across the café with Toby resting quietly in one arm. The residue of magic faded completely near a table in the window which was currently occupied by a dark-haired IC1 male, well-dressed and wearing sunglasses. He was giving his steady and undivided attention to the section of newspaper that was neatly folded next to his empty cup.
"Nice Bentley," I said, just to make conversation.
The bloke with sensitive eyes looked up from his paper as if just noticing me. "Thanks. That your Jag?"
I nodded toward Nightingale. "It's his. Do you know this area?"
He tilted his head so I could see my reflection in his dark lenses but didn't answer. Being a Londoner, I understood his reluctance and added by way of explanation, "There was a sign for a book sale a couple blocks back, but in this weather we couldn't read it."
"Up the street another block, then make a left. Big hall. Can't miss it."
"Thanks," I said and went back to the door. Nightingale was waiting with two covered cups in a carrier and a white paper bag. As I pushed open the door, I distinctly heard a voice in my head that wasn't mine say, "And your little dog, too."
Aziraphale had volunteered to take charge of the used book portion of the sale and was basking in his element. Even if they weren't especially valuable or esoteric, he was happy simply being around books and especially since none of them were valuable or esoteric, he was able to enjoy watching people sort through and purchase them. Several students had been assigned to his section and were chatting with each other while categorizing the previously owned books on long tables, making the job last to avoid the conspicuously empty area where a local writer had pulled out her knitting to pass the time until someone stopped by to purchase her latest romantic novel. The doors had opened to the public at ten and in spite of the weather the initial turnout was quite promising. He'd been kept so busy answering questions and making recommendations that he was surprised to see Crowley make an early appearance.
"If you've finished your errands," he began.
"Listen," the demon hissed urgently. "Do you remember that bloke who was here for the holiday market, the one with the posh voice who wanted a 'private showing' of your collection? He's back. There's a young man with him who is almost certainly a policeman. It has in fact occurred to me that your book-loving friend may himself be with the police. They were asking about the book sale at the café, and they've been to the cottage."
Aziraphale blanched. "You didn't invite them in?"
"No, I've been following them since they left the café. They peered in our windows and walked around outside. Those two seem suspiciously determined and I'm certain that they're eventually going to turn up here looking for you." He hesitated. "Before they do, angel, er – is there anything special I should know about?"
"How could you even think such a thing?" He turned away in a huff.
"Don't get defensive," Crowley said quickly. "Look, let's try to come up with a strategy as long as we have some time. We could leave right away and avoid them completely. Or, we can be here when they show up and try to find out what they want."
"There's no point in trying to run away from something like this," Aziraphale reasoned. "If they are with the police and they have reasonable cause, they can search the cottage without our permission, and I'd much rather be there if they do. Besides, I've always been happy to assist the police."
"Yeah? When's the last time that happened?"
"I was working with the poor in Whitechapel. Several young women were murdered and I helped to identify the bodies. It was rather sad."
"I'm pretty sure they never solved that one, angel. Any more recent contacts?"
Aziraphale frowned in thought. "There was a customer, an Inspector who had a standing order for anything written by Polidori or Newton, but I'm afraid that was before the Great War. Besides, we don't know for certain that they're here on an official inquiry."
"If they're not with the police, I suppose that bloke's going to keep stalking you until you let him see your collection. What is it with you booklovers, anyway?"
"I suppose it's just a...yearning for truth. I wouldn't expect you to understand."
"Oh. Right. You could just tell him that you're not interested in selling off anything in your collection."
"As it happens, I set aside a few volumes that I haven't decided on. I suppose I won't miss any of those very much if he's interested in buying them. " He sounded fretful. "I'll donate the price to the library."
Crowley reached out and entwined his fingers with the angel's. "I'll stay here with you for the rest of the sale. I know you could handle this yourself, but there's no reason you need to."
Aziraphale leaned closer and brushed his cheek against Crowley's. "I'm glad we had this conversation, my dear," he whispered, "because they've just arrived."
The first thing I did, after putting Toby in the back seat, was check my mobile. Magic draws energy from power sources like batteries, something I noticed early in my apprenticeship when I burned out several mobile phones in a few short weeks. I had eventually gotten around to having my mobile modified with a battery interrupt, but that only worked if I shut it down before someone started messing with magic. Needless to say, I was surprised to find that it was still working.
"What happened back there?" I asked as Nightingale pulled into the street. "Every act of magic I've encountered so far destroys electronics."
"I don't understand it myself, Peter. I think it may be one of those areas of inquiry that will be up to your generation and the next to investigate. iAfter/i you finish your apprenticeship."
I rang Leslie and asked her to run the plates on the Bentley. "You're where? I suppose this means we're not going out tonight."
"They're not even going to start playing until ten," I told her. "Plenty of time to drive back and grab a bite somewhere before then."
Being a weekend, the streets still hadn't been groomed so Nightingale drove slowly. The supermarket car park was nearly empty so he pulled in, and we opened our coffees. The combination of cold weather and having Toby along gave us no choice but to eat our sandwiches in the Jag, but I could tell my governor wasn't happy about it.
Leslie rang back. "Registered to Anthony Crowley, plates were issued in London. Occupation listed as investor, no police record, but he does have a stellar credit rating, which in itself sounds highly suspicious to me." She read me his address. "You'll notice it's the same as Mr. Fell's."
"How d'you know that?"
"Chief Inspectors don't do that sort of work themselves, Peter. And if you're not back by nine, I'm going to the club on my own."
"Proper policing doesn't wait for regular business hours," I told her loftily.
"Neither does kissing up to the boss," she observed, and hung up on me.
We headed out of town and I unfolded the driving instructions I'd printed out that morning, telling him where to turn until we came to the house shared by Fell and Crowley.
It was a tiny place right on the water, and I could just hear the estate agent selling it to them on the view alone. It looked to have been built in the twenties, so they weren't the first owners. Being the junior officer, I had the pleasure of walking round the cottage, peering in the windows and leaving tracks in the slush. It started to rain again, and I was relieved to get back into the warm car.
"No one's home," I reported.
"Were you able to sense anything?"
I hesitated. "Nothing surprising. Just...affection for the place, I suppose. There's even a plaque above the door that says 'Home'. "
"We'll go back to town, then, and see what we can discover at the library sale."
I agreed, partly because I needed to use the loo.
We had to wait for a spot to park at the town hall and I guessed that in most of the town was making a point to stop by in spite of the weather.
"Stands to reason," Nightingale remarked. "Library benefit, good cause."
I took Toby for the obligatory stroll, fed him some treats and put him back in the car. We went inside and stood by the door, sussing out the place. Nightingale went to the men's room so I shut down my mobile and tired to otherwise distract myself. When he emerged from the loo, I sprang my vengeance on him.
"I bought you some tea," I said. "Hold mine for a minute, will you?"
"They're both here," he told me when I came back. "They seem to have volunteered to work the sale."
"Pillars of the community," I offered, taking back my tea.
"Perhaps they are, Peter," he chided. "That's what we're here to find out find out. Let's look around and see if we can find anything on our list."
The list consisted of titles that were familiar to me from my studies as well as books on magic that had been discovered missing from the Bodleian library. A circuit of the hall revealed that the oldest books were in the sector being presided over by our persons of interest. I took one side, Nightingale took the other, and we started reading the titles on the spines.
Two teenage girls who were working the sale approached me to offer assistance. One wore a hijab and the other had hair like Hermione Granger's. I told them I was just looking, thanks, and they hurried back to the group of other students who were texting their friends and debating which film to see after dinner that night.
A few minutes later, Fell approached my boss and I moved closer as they exchanged pleasantries.
"Are you still collecting esoteric books?" Nightingale asked.
"I retired recently," Fell answered. "You know how it is. It would take something very special to interest me these days. And you?"
"I still have a long wish list," he answered. "I don't believe I introduced myself last time we met, Mr. Fell. Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale." He showed him his warrant card.
Crowley sauntered over and, remembering what had happened at the café earlier, I was wary. He nodded to me and took off his sunglasses. When he folded them into his pocket, I saw that the irises were nearly yellow in colour. His features seemed subtly different without the glasses, and I re-evaluated my earlier classification to IC6, but his stance reminded me of a martial artist. The word iYakuza/i popped into my head and I switched his description to IC5.
That's when I overturned my tea on the table. Crowley barely glanced at the mess, but there was the same vestigium as before and when I looked down, my cup was full again and the books were dry and slightly dusty.
"How nice to meet you," Fell said. "I was just telling my partner about an officer with the Met who had an account at my shop – with the previous owner, that is. Inspector Mayville - or perhaps Murville? Before your time, of course."
A strange expression passed over Nightingale's face. "I've heard the name," he acknowledged.
"He was interested in books about alchemy and the occult."
"Actually, Constable Grant and I came down today for the same reason. We're looking for some books on magic that have gone missing." It didn't seem that he had even noticed that someone nearby had just used magic.
Fell frowned. "I haven't purchased anything of that sort since...well, in a very long time. And, naturally, there's nothing so unusual for sale here."
"The volumes we're interested in vanished in the sixties," Nightingale told him. "I understand your collection contains some fairly obscure volumes. Would you mind if we had a look?"
"Happy to help, Inspector," Fell replied. He glanced at a large clock on the wall. "We'll be finished here in an hour or so. I hope you don't mind waiting?"
"Not at all," he answered. "After the hall closes, we'll follow you home."
Even though it was sleeting again when they left the hall, Crowley barely reduced speed. He kept checking the rear-view mirror to see how the Jag was handling on the icy pavement.
"Remember, angel, they're not guests." Crowley braked the Bentley and slid to a precarious stop outside the cottage. "And we're supposed to be having dinner with the rest of the volunteers at six."
"It takes so long to bring out the Bibles and prophecies and to put them away properly," Aziraphale fretted. "I'd rather they not look at them." The real, unspoken quandary was one of admitting strangers into personal space. When they'd first moved to the cottage, Crowley had claimed one room for his office, leaving Aziraphale with no choice but to store his books in the bedroom. The arrangement had worked fairly well, because Crowley was the only one who had ever really gotten into the habit of sleeping, but the result was that they had both become highly territorial about that particular room. Especially since they'd recently started using it for other things…
"No problem, got it covered," Crowley said unexpectedly. He glanced in the mirror again. "Damn! He pulled out of that spin."
"Really, my dear," Aziraphale murmured. "Go inside and put on the kettle. I'll let them in."
When he came into the kitchen a few minutes later, Crowley was pouring tea. "I put the heat up," Aziraphale informed him, pulling out a package of biscuits from a cupboard. "They must be freezing."
"Like I said, they're not company."
"Try pretending they're ducks."
Crowley scowled, but made no reply.
Aziraphale peered out the window. "With the weather so awful, I'm not sure we should go out again tonight."
"We are inot/i asking them to stay for dinner," Crowley hissed.
"That's not what I meant, my dear." Aziraphale set plates on the tray and slid an arm around his waist. "I thought you might like a hot shower, and, afterward we could try the new Shiraz with some walnuts and those Provolone-stuffed olives you brought home."
"Oh," said Crowley. "That would be...er...Yeah. Sounds good." He leaned so close their eyes unfocused and traced a thumb down the angel's cheek.
The toilet flushed, and the pipes under the floor rattled a response.
"Let's get this over with," Aziraphale sighed.
The officers were in Crowley's office and the Inspector's nose hovered just millimetres above the top of a new Plexiglas case that held one of the Infamous Bibles. "Truly impressive," he said when they came in with the tea tray. "Your friend was quite right; your collection is extraordinary."
"Hardly anyone finds this sort of thing interesting anymore," Aziraphale said distantly. "I really should donate them to a university." He was staring at the transformation Crowley had wrought; most of his office had become a shrine for Aziraphale's cherished books. One entire wall consisted of neatly-filled shelves behind gleaming glass doors and a dehumidifier hummed in a corner across the room. It was something he could have done – in fact ishould/i have done – himself, but he had been fairly accused of dithering in Heaven and the tendency hadn't relented over the last 6,000 years. And if Crowley's sacrifice of part of his personal space was intended to be permanent, then the recent change in their Agreement had turned out to be quite significant, indeed.
Crowley stood in the doorway, looking altogether pleased. He was dead certain his refinements had been a worthwhile investment that were going to pay off nicely for the foreseeable future.
"It doesn't appear that any of the books we're after are here," the constable said, standing up from his perusal of the lowest shelves.
"Have some tea," Aziraphale suggested, remembering his manners. "The biscuits are quite good."
"Has your interest in collecting books ever run toward the subject of magic?" Nightingale asked.
"That depends on your definition of the word." Aziraphale looked about uncertainly. "My dear, do you know where -?"
"Just under here," Crowley supplied and pulled an acid-free carton from beneath his desk. Aziraphale's smile of gratitude confirmed that Crowley's efforts would be repaid with interest.
Aziraphale removed the lid and sorted through the Mylar bags inside. "I thought to run these up to London when the weather clears. I have a friend who owns a rather more specialized business than the gentleman who bought my shop." He offered two wrapped volumes to Nightingale. "These are the only two books on the subject I've ever owned."
Grant set down his mug and stood next to Nightingale as he inspected the covers. The first was 'Maskelyne's Book of Magic'. The second was 'Our Magic' by Maskelyne and Devant.
"They're both first editions and in fine condition," Aziraphale was saying. "I'm certain it will take a while to find a buyer willing to pay what they're worth."
"The Maskelynes were a family of stage magicians," Nightingale explained to Grant. "Jasper Maskelyne served in the Second World War and used visual illusions to conceal targets from the German army. Have you performed stage magic, Mr. Fell?"
Aziraphale plucked at the cuff of his sleeve reminiscently and shook his head. "I studied with the best will in the world, but I was never very good at it."
Nightingale handed the books back to him. "Thank you for your time and for the tea. We'd better be getting back to London."
Crowley, looking inordinately cheerful, met them by the front door with their coats. "Drive safely," he called as they walked out into the sleet. He shut the door behind them and turned in time for Aziraphale to seize his lapels and pin him to the door with a breath-stealing kiss.
"Oh, Crowley! Of all the selfless, considerate - "
Oh, yeah, Crowley thought. Definitely worth it.
"I'm sorry to have wasted your time," Nightingale said, turning out onto the main road.
"I wouldn't call it a complete waste," I answered. "I'm not sure about Fell, but Crowley is definitely doing magic of a different order than Sir Isaac dreamt of in his philosophy."
"It's none of our business as long as they haven't broken the law."
"I can't believe no one has written a world history of magic."
"There aren't enough practitioners to make such a book profitable."
"That you know of," I persisted. "Did you know the type of magic he's doing existed before today? There could be hundreds of thousands of people practising magic in the world right now, and we'd never know because our information is so limited!"
"I don't know what to tell you, Peter," he said patiently. "Our knowledge is limited of necessity because there are so few of us."
"Ordinary people would be interested in studying the history and ethnography of magic," I went on. "University students would jump at the opportunity. People are always searching for new dissertation topics."
"Ordinary people wouldn't be content just writing about magic. And they would become resentful as soon as they realized they don't have the ability to use it themselves."
"There are probably a lot more people like Abigail who have an aptitude for it. And there will be others who have an affinity for the sorts we don't know much about."
The more I thought about it, the more I felt we could have learned more from the two back at the cottage. The temperature had risen a degree or two, the sleet had turned to sporadic drops of rain and the road had become merely slushy. Finally, I said what I was thinking. "We need to go back."
"I think I left my mobile at the cottage." I knew it was a transparent lie, and I was uncomfortably aware that would cause me endless embarrassment and sleepless nights if it was going to mean the end of my brief career with the Met.
Nightingale gave me a long, hard look. "Constable, I want you to be very certain about this."
"I need to know, sir," I said simply.
Several moments passed, then he slowed the car and looked for a place to turn around. "When I took you on as my apprentice, I assumed a responsibility to protect you. You seem determined to continue this investigation, and I would rather be nearby in case you run into something you can't handle than risk that you'll return on your own – or worse, bring Leslie with you."
"This is exactly what you did when you investigated that couple in Henley," I pointed out. "Sir."
After a moment, he nodded. "So it is, Peter," he said. "So it is." He turned the Jag and we headed back to the cottage.
Darkness had fallen early because of the thick, low clouds. He parked near the corner, just beyond the view of anyone looking out from the cottage windows.
"Be careful," he told me. "I hope you find what you're looking for."
Aziraphale was taking his turn in the shower, and Crowley had just put the wine in the refrigerator to chill when he sensed the intruder. He knew who it was at once. His bathrobe turned into a dark suit as he headed down the hallway and poked his nose into the steamy shower. "Angel?"
"I'm going outside for a minute."
"Is everything all right?"
"Fine. I'll be right back."
Young Constable Grant had ino idea/i what he was getting himself into.
"Forget something?" a voice asked suddenly, and I jumped. While I might be as terrible at policing as Leslie frequently claims, there was no way Crowley had been standing there when I came up the path.
"Can't find my mobile," I just managed. "I wondered if anyone might still be home."
A lit cigarette appeared in his hand and he casually brought it to his lips, inhaled and slowly released the smoke. "Cards on the table, Constable," he said. "Your governor brought you down from London because he suspected my partner of something nefarious when he was here back in December. He brought you along this time for a second opinion. You got yourselves invited in and had a look round, but you didn't find what you expected. So you came back, hoping to catch us unawares."
I took a purposefully obvious step backward and said, "Look, I just want to find out where you learned to do magic."
He didn't deny it. In fact, he seemed amused. "I happen to know that using magic's not against the law."
"Not as such. We're with a special branch of the Met that handles cases involving unlawful use of magic. The books we're trying to trace were stolen from the Bodleian Library by a group of ethically challenged magicians. From what your friend said before the holidays my governor thought there might be a connection and we wanted to be certain that your partner hadn't acquired any of them. We're aware that you've been doing magic, but it's not Newtonian, and we just want to know where you learned it. "
The man took another drag on his cigarette. "If you really want to know," he said slowly, "I learned it before you were born, Constable, during the war between the two Great Powers. I never really bought into my side's propaganda, but I have to admit that I enjoyed making people's short lives miserable, and so I went along with the party line. And then, I fell under his," he jabbed his cigarette toward the cottage, "influence. You may have noticed, even with such short acquaintance, that there isn't a malevolent molecule in his being. Eventually, because he shamed me into doing the right thing, I betrayed my own people. I put my past behind me and bound my destiny to his. And as long as my powers endure, I will not permit anyone to disturb his tranquillity." The cigarette vanished from his hand. "Have I made myself clear?"
"Crystal," I answered, turning over what he had said in my mind. It had simply never occurred to me that the government might have wizards working in intelligence, but why not? And if we did, everyone else must have them, too. "I'm sorry to have troubled you tonight, sir," I said. "I'll be leaving now."
I heard his voice in the darkness behind me. "I suspect there are a lot of things you haven't been told about. Ask him about your predecessors. Ask him to tell you about the Witchfinder Army." I could feel his eyes on me as I walked to the street and the area between my shoulder blades felt very vulnerable until I turned the corner.
When sound of the Jaguar's engine finally faded into the distance, Crowley went round to the Bentley and did a brief inspection. "God bless it," he swore when his probing fingers encountered a small metallic square under the fender. He glared balefully at the tracking mechanism and headed behind the cottage to pick his way around freezing puddles and the sharp piles of ice that the wind had heaped on the shoreline. The ocean was restless. He walked as close to the waves as seemed prudent, and then hurled the device out into the surf.
"Is everything all right, my dear?" Aziraphale asked when he appeared back in the kitchen. "You were gone so long I was beginning to worry."
"It is now," Crowley answered. "You know I'll always come back," he added gently.
The angel stepped closer and offered him a glass of wine. "Who was it?"
"The young constable. He said they're with a special branch that investigates crimes involving magic. He thought I was using some sort of spells and wanted to know where I had learned to do it."
"What did you tell him?"
"The truth," Crowley said.
"Do you think he believed you?" Aziraphale asked after a stunned silence.
"As far as his personal experience allowed, anyway. I don't think they'll be around again. And if they do, I personally guarantee there will be Hell to pay."
Aziraphale put a hand on his chest. "You don't need to protect me," he said softly.
"Yes, I do, angel." Crowley hugged him fiercely. "Yes, I do."
"Did you learn anything more?" Nightingale asked when I got back in the Jag.
"The younger bloke was waiting for me on the path," I told him. "We had a friendly chat. I'm fairly certain they haven't been involved with Geoffrey Wheatcroft's circle."
"What led you to that conclusion?"
"He all but admitted that he's ex-KGB," I stated. "And that his partner was formerly with MI6." I was still grappling with the ramifications. It hadn't occurred to me before that the government might have wizards working in intelligence, but why not? And if we did, everyone else must have them, too.
"That certainly goes far to explain their immaculate records." He started the engine and began threading the icy streets back to the motorway.
"I wasn't aware, sir, that career opportunities exist for wizards in the SIS."
"I didn't know that myself, actually," Nightingale admitted. "I was inactive during much of the Cold War. I secluded myself at the Folly and let events pass me by."
He didn't say very much on the way back to London. I was having a hard time staying awake and I desperately wanted a large, sweet coffee of some sort. When a beacon of bright light appeared ahead, indicating we were approaching an outpost of civilization, I suggested we stop for petrol and he put on his signal.
It was one of those stations with a 24-hour convenience shop and I resigned myself to vending machine vanilla cappuccino. He passed me a credit card so I filled the tank while he waited in the Jag. When I was finished, I motioned for him to roll down the window. "Do you want something hot to drink?"
"Tea will be fine. One or two pieces of ice, no sugar."
"Okay. While I'm inside, I want you to try to recall everything you know about the Witchfinder Army."
"You'd better drive back to London, then," Nightingale said. He got out and tossed me the keys. "Just try not to spill anything sticky on the upholstery."
Thanks for reading! Please leave a comment!