Read Still Bleeding (A Jack Nightingale Short Story) Online

Authors: Stephen Leather

Tags: #supernatural, #stephen leather, #supernatural adventure, #supernatural bestseller, #jack nightingale, #supernatural books, #supernatural detective, #supernatural short story

Still Bleeding (A Jack Nightingale Short Story) (5 page)

BOOK: Still Bleeding (A Jack Nightingale Short Story)
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‘What are you
saying, Ricky? Are you saying they’ll kill her?’

‘I’m saying
that when non-Catholics start to report miracles, it doesn’t end
well.’

‘But if the
miracle proves the existence of God, the Church would welcome that,
surely.’

Ricky sipped
his lager. ‘Do you believe in God, Nightingale?’

‘That’s a tough
question.’

‘It’s actually
a very simple question.’

‘Doesn’t make
it any less tough.’ Nightingale picked at the label of his bottle
with his thumb. ‘I believe in devils,’ he said. ‘And angels. ‘And I
believe in The Devil. If I believe in The Devil then I have to
believe in God. You can’t have one without the other, can you?’

‘You’re asking
the wrong person,’ said Ricky. ‘I’m an atheist. Have been for
years.’

‘Seriously?
After what Tracey’s been through?’

‘Our mum was a
Catholic and Carla and I were both baptised. When we were not much
older than Tracey, she got cancer. We prayed, Carla and I, we
prayed for hours on end, begging God to save our mum. He didn’t of
course. I became an atheist at her funeral. Carla did the
same.’

‘Understandable,’ said Nightingale.

‘There’s no
such thing as a God,’ said Ricky. ‘Not as an individual entity.
It’s impossible, how could one being control everything? The
universe is huge and scientists can explain pretty much everything.
God is a matter of faith, pure and simple.’

‘But Tracey’s
stigmata?’

Ricky shrugged.
‘Psychosomatic.’

‘And the Virgin
Mary?’

‘Only Tracey
sees her. No one else has.’

‘You think
she’s making it up?’

‘I don’t know.
And I don’t know where she’s getting it from. Her dad Dave’s a
confirmed atheist as well. There’s no religion in the house. And
none at the school, obviously.’

‘I think that
Tracey truly believes that she is talking to the mother of Christ,’
said Ricky. ‘I think somehow her belief is somehow manifesting
itself in the stigmata. And while I can’t even come close to
understanding or explaining it, she can somehow cure people who are
sick. But whatever she’s doing, and however she’s doing it, I don’t
think for one minute that God has anything to do with it.’ He took
another pull on his lager and wiped his mouth with the back of his
hand. ‘But that’s not the point. The point is that she has the
stigmata, she can work miracles, and she’s not been baptised. That
makes her a threat to the Catholic Church. So I’m going to ask you
one last time, Nightingale. Is the Vatican your client?’

Nightingale
said nothing.

‘Because if the
Vatican have hired you to find Tracey then you’ve put her life in
danger.’ He stared at Nightingale, his hand tightening around the
bottle in front of him. ‘You hear what I’m saying?’

Nightingale
nodded slowly. ‘I hear you.’

‘Well?’

Nightingale
took a deep breath and nodded slowly. ‘I need a cigarette,’ he
said.

 

* * *

 

‘He was
definitely a priest?’ asked Ricky. He and Nightingale were standing
outside the pub, the collars of their coats turned up against the
winter wind. There were two other smokers on the other side of the
pub, young women with dyed blond hair and toddlers in matching
McLaren pushchairs.

‘He had the
cassock and everything,’ said Nightingale.

‘That doesn’t
mean anything,’ said Ricky. ‘They do a lot of outsourcing.’

‘You mean he
might have been pretending to be a priest?’

‘Don’t look so
outraged, Nightingale. It wasn’t that long ago that you were
claiming to be a journalist.’ He blew smoke up at the darkening
sky. ‘Have you told this Connolly where Tracey is?’

Nightingale
shook his head.

‘That’s
something, at least. The problem is, if you found her, so could
anyone else.’

‘It wasn’t
difficult,’ said Nightingale. ‘You should have used a different
doctor.’

‘We didn’t have
much choice. We can’t just pop into any A&E without questions
being asked. And there’s always some NHS employee wanting to make a
few quid by tipping off a newspaper or Sky News.’ He drew on his
cigarette and blew smoke. ‘The thing is, if you found her, others
can, too.’

Nightingale
flicked away what was left of his cigarette. ‘I need a favour.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Can I talk to
Tracey?’

 

* * *

 

Dr McKenzie had
finished changing Tracey’s dressing and had left the house by the
time Ricky and Nightingale got back. They had picked up Jenny from
the Audi. Ricky let himself into the house and asked Nightingale
and Jenny to wait on the doorstep while he spoke to Tracey’s
parents.

‘He seems
nice,’ said Jenny.

‘He is. Just
very protective of his niece.’

‘What did he
tell you?’

‘He said the
Vatican wants to hurt Tracey.’

Jenny’s jaw
dropped. ‘What? Why?’

Before
Nightingale could answer the door opened and Ricky ushered them in.
‘Before you see Tracey, there’s something I need to show you,’ he
said. He headed up the stairs and Nightingale and Jenny followed
him. Ricky opened a door and showed them a small study. There was a
desk and a computer and printer, and above it two bookshelves
filled with reference books. There was a corkboard on the wall
opposite the desk and there were several dozen newspaper cuttings
pinned on it. Paragraphs and pictures had been circled in red ink
and in the top right hand corner of the board was a map dotted with
coloured pins. ‘Once Carla told me what had happened to Tracey, I
started doing some research on stigmata. And time and time again I
discovered that within months of a stigmata case being reported one
of three things happened. More often than not the person involved
was shown to be a fake. That happens in more than ninety per cent
of cases. Sometimes the Church sends an investigator and they prove
fakery, sometimes the media exposes the fake. But it’s the
remaining ten per cent that concern me. I looked at fifty cases in
all. Of the five that weren’t proven to be fake, two died and three
have vanished.’

‘Vanished?’

‘They just
disappeared. Along with their families. Now you might assume that
they had just moved to avoid press attention, but trust me
Nightingale, I’m good at tracing people. They vanished from the
face of the earth.’

‘And the two
that died?’

‘A teenage girl
in France. She fell asleep in the bath and drowned. And a
sixty-year-old man in Spain. Died in a car accident.’

‘Accident’s
happen,’ said Jenny.

Ricky smiled
thinly. ‘He had a spotless driving record and crashed into a tree
on a perfectly clear day with zero alcohol in his blood. Like I
said, one of three things happens: the case is shown to be a fake,
the person with the stigmata vanishes, or they die. No one with
stigmata lives happily ever after, and I think it’s the Vatican
that’s behind it.’

‘Ricky, are you
absolutely one hundred per cent sure that Tracey isn’t faking this,
either deliberately or…’ He left the sentence unfinished.

‘You think Dave
and Carla might be doing it?’ Ricky shook his head. ‘Definitely
not. When a kid is shown to be faking stigmata it’s usually because
there’s religion in the family. That’s not the case here. There
isn’t a Bible in the house and Tracey has never set foot in a
church.’ He waved at the cuttings. ‘Not a single one of the fake
cases occurred in an aethiest household. Not one.’ He took them
downstairs to the kitchen. Tracey’s mother was sitting at the
kitchen table with the girl. They both looked worried as Ricky
introduced them to Nightingale and Jenny.


Would
you like tea?’ asked Mrs Spradbery.

‘We’re fine,’
said Jenny.

Ricky pulled
out chairs for Nightingale and Jenny and they sat down. Ricky stood
by the door, his arms folded.

Nightingale
smiled at Tracey. ‘Your uncle says that you talk to the Virgin
Mary. Is that right?’

The girl nodded
solemnly.

‘Who told you
she was the Virgin Mary?’

‘She did. At
first I thought she was an angel but she isn’t, she’s the mother of
Jesus.’

‘But no one
else can see her, is that right?’

‘She doesn’t
let everyone see her. That’s what she told me. Only special
people.’

Nightingale
nodded. ‘Can I talk to her?’

‘Only if you
can see her. Can you see her?’

‘Is she here
now?’

‘Of course,’
said Tracey. ‘She came in with you. She’s over there, by the
fridge.’

Nightingale and
Jenny looked at the fridge, then at each other. Jenny shrugged.

‘She’s
smiling,’ said Tracey.

‘I bet she is,’
said Nightingale.

Tracey looked
at the fridge and cocked her head on one side. She seemed to be
listening intently, a worried frown on her face. Eventually she
nodded. ‘I’ll tell him,’ she said. She looked at Nightingale.

‘She says you
have to help.’

‘She said
that?’

Tracey nodded
earnestly.

‘Did she say
why?’

‘She said you
know why. She says it’s important.’

‘Tracey, can
she tell me herself?’ asked Nightingale.

Tracey
looked towards the fridge. ‘Is that okay?’ she asked, then stared
into space for half a minute. She frowned. ‘Can you say that
again?’ she said and stared at the fridge for several seconds
before looking back at Nightingale.
‘She said you need to
think about Astronomy Chapter Six Verse Sixteen.’

Nightingale frowned. ‘Astronomy? You mean
Deuteronomy?’

She nodded. ‘That’s right. That’s what she
said. Deuteronomy’

‘What is it?’ asked Jenny.

Nightingale smiled at her. ‘You shall not put
the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.’

Jenny frowned. ‘What?’

‘It’s a quote from the Bible. Deuteronomy
Chapter Six Verse Sixteen. That priest said the same thing to me in
my office. There’s no way Tracey could have known that.’

Jenny leaned towards him. ‘Are you saying
she’s really here? The Virgin Mary? She’s in the room now?’

‘She’s there,’ said Tracey. ‘It’s just that
you can’t see her.’


Really
Mr Nightingale, it’s way past Tracey’s bedtime,’ said Mrs
Spradbery.

‘That’s okay,’
said Nightingale, standing up. ‘I think we’re done.’


I’ll
show you out,’ said Ricky.
He
took Nightingale and Jenny down the hall to the front door.
‘You need to take her somewhere,’ said Nightingale. ‘You need to
get her well away from here.’

Ricky nodded.
‘I could do that,’ he said. ‘I’ve got a cottage on the edge of
Dartmoor. It’s a bit of a smallholding, I grow vegetables and
stuff.’

‘Bit of a
farmer?’

‘It’s an
eco-thing,’ said Ricky. ‘I use it as a bolt-hole when I’m working
on a book. Tracey can stay with me. I’m pretty sure I can look
after her wounds. It’s mainly just a matter of keeping them clean.’
He opened the front door.

‘No one else
knows about the cottage?’ asked Nightingale.

‘No one outside
the family.’

‘What about
Tracey’s parents? Can they go with you? I could do with the house
to myself for a day or two. If that’s okay with you?’

‘What are you
planning?’

‘I’m going to
try to get the Vatican off your back. So it would be best if you
take Tracey and her parents and hole up in Devon for a few days
until we see how it pans out. Okay?’

Ricky nodded.
‘I guess so,’ he said.

 

* * *

 

Jenny drove
Nightingale to his flat in Bayswater. He went inside only to pick
up his car keys and then he collected his MGB and drove to Clapham.
He parked down a side street, turned up the collar of his raincoat
and lit a cigarette as he walked to Perry Smith’s house. He was
halfway through the cigarette when he reached Smith’s two-storey
terraced house. Standing in front of the black railings around the
steps that led down to the basement were two large black men and
Nightingale grinned as he recognised the larger of the two. ‘Bloody
hell, T-Bone, doesn’t Perry ever let you have a day off?’

The man grinned
and opened his arms, inviting a hug. He was close to seven feet
tall and despite the fact it was almost midnight he had on
wraparound Oakley sunglasses. Like his companion he was wearing a
black Puffa jacket over a dark tracksuit and had gleaming white
Nikes on his feet. He hugged Nightingale hard and patted him on the
back with shovel-sized gloved hands. ‘The proverbial bad penny,’
said T-Bone. ‘Always turning up when you need something.’ He
released his grip on Nightingale and introduced him to his
companion. ‘Jack Nightingale, private dick,’ he said. He waggled
his little finger. ‘He doesn’t charge much because his dick isn’t
that big.’

‘How are ya
doing?’ said the man, nodding at Nightingale, his blank eyes
suggesting that he wasn’t expecting an answer to his question.

‘I need a
favour from Perry,’ said Nightingale, gesturing at the front door
with his chin.

‘Of course you
do, that’s the only time we ever see you. What do you need,
Birdman?’

‘Something from
your lock-up in Streatham.’

T-Bone grinned
and shook his head sadly. ‘You treat us like bloody hardware store,
you know that?’

‘I don’t know
many people who have what you have,’ said Nightingale. He flicked
his cigarette butt into the gutter and it sparked as it hit the
tarmac. ‘Is he in?’

‘Yeah but he’s
busy. Busy in a way that we don’t want to go interrupting him, if
you get my drift.’

‘I can wait,’
said Nightingale.

‘No need,
Birdman,’ said T-Bone. ‘Perry says I can sort you out whenever you
need sorting out.’ He shrugged his massive shoulders. ‘He’s taken a
shine to you. Dunno why, but he has.’

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