The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith, J.K. Rowling

THOUGH ROBIN ELLACOTT’S TWENTY-FIVE YEARS of life had seen their moments of drama and incident, she had never before woken up in the certain knowledge that she would remember the coming day for as long as she lived. Shortly after midnight, her long-term boyfriend, Matthew, had proposed to her under the statue of Eros in the middle of Piccadilly Circus. In the giddy relief following her acceptance, he confessed that he had been planning to pop the question in the Thai restaurant where they just had eaten dinner, but that he had reckoned without the silent couple beside them, who had eavesdropped on their entire conversation. He had therefore suggested a walk through the darkening streets, in spite of Robin’s protests that they both needed to be up early, and finally inspiration had seized him, and he had led her, bewildered, to the steps of the statue. There, flinging discretion to the chilly wind (in a most unMatthew-like way), he had proposed, on one knee, in front of three down-and-outs huddled on the steps, sharing what looked like a bottle of meths. It had been, in Robin’s view, the most perfect proposal, ever, in the history of matrimony. He had even had a ring in his pocket, which she was now wearing; a sapphire with two diamonds, it fitted perfectly, and all the way into town she kept staring at it on her hand as it rested on her lap. She and Matthew had a story to tell now, a funny family story, the kind you told your children, in which his planning (she loved that he had planned it) went awry, and turned into something spontaneous. She loved the tramps, and the moon, and Matthew, panicky and flustered, on one knee; she loved Eros, and dirty old Piccadilly, and the black cab they had taken home to Clapham. She was, in fact, not far off loving the whole of London, which she had not so far warmed to, during the month she had lived there. Even the pale and pugnacious commuters squashed into the Tube carriage around her were gilded by the radiance of the ring, and as she emerged into the chilly March daylight at Tottenham Court Road underground station, she stroked the underside of the platinum band with her thumb, and experienced an explosion of happiness at the thought that she might buy some bridal magazines at lunchtime. Male eyes lingered on her as she picked her way through the road-works at the top of Oxford Street, consulting a piece of paper in her right hand. Robin was, by any standards, a pretty girl; tall and curvaceous, with long strawberry-blonde hair that rippled as she strode briskly along, the chill air adding color to her pale cheeks. This was the first day of a week-long secretarial assignment. She had been temping ever since coming to live with Matthew in London, though not for much longer; she had what she termed “proper” interviews lined up now.

The most challenging part of these uninspiring piecemeal jobs was often finding the offices. London, after the small town in Yorkshire she had left, felt vast, complex and impenetrable. Matthew had told her not to walk around with her nose in an A–Z, which would make her look like a tourist and render her vulnerable; she therefore relied, as often as not, on poorly hand-drawn maps that somebody at the temping agency had made for her. She was not convinced that this made her look more like a native-born Londoner. The metal barricades and the blue plastic Corimec walls surrounding the roadworks made it much harder to see where she ought to be going, because they obscured half the landmarks drawn on the paper in her hand. She crossed the torn-up road in front of a towering office block, labeled “Center Point” on her map, which resembled a gigantic concrete waffle with its dense grid of uniform square windows, and made her way in the rough direction of Denmark Street. She found it almost accidentally, following a narrow alleyway called Denmark Place out into a short street full of colorful shop fronts: windows full of guitars, keyboards and every kind of musical ephemera. Red and white barricades surrounded another open hole in the road, and workmen in fluorescent jackets greeted her with early-morning wolf-whistles, which Robin pretended not to hear. She consulted her watch. Having allowed her usual margin of time for getting lost, she was a quarter of an hour early.

The nondescript black-painted doorway of the office she sought stood to the left of the 12 Bar Café; the name of the occupant of the office was written on a scrappy piece of lined paper taped beside the buzzer for the second floor. On an ordinary day, without the brand-new ring glittering upon her finger, she might have found this off-putting; today, however, the dirty paper and the peeling paint on the door were, like the tramps from last night, mere picturesque details on the backdrop of her grand romance. She checked her watch again (the sapphire glittered and her heart leapt; she would watch that stone glitter all the rest of her life), then decided, in a burst of euphoria, to go up early and show herself keen for a job that did not matter in the slightest. She had just reached for the bell when the black door flew open from the inside, and a woman burst out on to the street. For one strangely static second the two of them looked directly into each other’s eyes, as each braced to withstand a collision. Robin’s senses were unusually receptive on this enchanted morning; the split-second view of that white face made such an impression on her that she thought, moments later, when they had managed to dodge each other, missing contact by a centimeter, after the dark woman had hurried off down the street, around the corner and out of sight, that she could have drawn her perfectly from memory. It was not merely the extraordinary beauty of the face that had impressed itself on her memory, but the other’s expression: livid, yet strangely exhilarated. Robin caught the door before it closed on the dingy stairwell. An old-fashioned metal staircase spiraled up around an equally antiquated birdcage lift. Concentrating on keeping her high heels from catching in the metalwork stairs, she proceeded to the first landing, passing a door carrying a laminated and framed poster saying Crowdy Graphics, and continued climbing.

It was only when she reached the glass door on the floor above that Robin realized, for the first time, what kind of business she had been sent to assist. Nobody at the agency had said. The name on the paper beside the outside buzzer was engraved on the glass panel: C. B. Strike, and, underneath it, the words Private Detective. Robin stood quite still, with her mouth slightly open, experiencing a moment of wonder that nobody who knew her could have understood. She had never confided in a solitary human being (even Matthew) her lifelong, secret, childish ambition. For this to happen today, of all days! It felt like a wink from God (and this too she somehow connected with the magic of the day; with Matthew, and the ring; even though, properly considered, they had no connection at all). Savoring the moment, she approached the engraved door very slowly. She stretched out her left hand (sapphire dark, now, in this dim light) towards the handle; but before she had touched it, the glass door too flew open.

This time, there was no near-miss. Sixteen unseeing stone of disheveled male slammed into her; Robin was knocked off her feet and catapulted backwards, handbag flying, arms windmilling, towards the void beyond the lethal staircase. 2 STRIKEABSORBED THE IMPACT, HEARD the high-pitched scream and reacted instinctively: throwing out a long arm, he seized a fistful of cloth and flesh; a second shriek of pain echoed around the stone walls and then, with a wrench and a tussle, he had succeeded in dragging the girl back on to firm ground. Her shrieks were still echoing off the walls, and he realized that he himself had bellowed, “Jesus Christ!” The girl was doubled up in pain against the office door, whimpering. Judging by the lopsided way she was hunched, with one hand buried deep under the lapel of her coat, Strike deduced that he had saved her by grabbing a substantial part of her left breast. A thick, wavy curtain of bright blonde hair hid most of the girl’s blushing face, but Strike could see tears of pain leaking out of one uncovered eye. “Fuck—sorry!” His loud voice reverberated around the stairwell. “I didn’t see you—didn’t expect anyone to be there…” From under their feet, the strange and solitary graphic designer who inhabited the office below yelled, “What’s happening up there?” and a second later, a muffled complaint from above indicated that the manager of the bar downstairs, who slept in an attic flat over Strike’s office, had also been disturbed—perhaps woken—by the noise. “Come in here…” Strike pushed open the door with his fingertips, so as to have no accidental contact with her while she stood huddled against it, and ushered her into the office. “Is everything all right?” called the graphic designer querulously.

Strike slammed the office door behind him. “I’m OK,” lied Robin, in a quavering voice, still hunched over with her hand on her chest, her back to him. After a second or two, she straightened up and turned around, her face scarlet and her eyes still wet. Her accidental assailant was massive; his height, his general hairiness, coupled with a gently expanding belly, suggested a grizzly bear. One of his eyes was puffy and bruised, the skin just below the eyebrow cut. Congealing blood sat in raised white-edged nail tracks on his left cheek and the right side of his thick neck, revealed by the crumpled open collar of his shirt. “Are you M-Mr. Strike?” “Yeah.” “I-I’m the temp.” “The what?” “The temp.

From Temporary Solutions?” The name of the agency did not wipe the incredulous look from his battered face. They stared at each other, unnerved and antagonistic. Just like Robin, Cormoran Strike knew that he would forever remember the last twelve hours as an epoch-changing night in his life. Now, it seemed, the Fates had sent an emissary in a neat beige trench coat, to taunt him with the fact that his life was bubbling towards catastrophe. There was not supposed to be a temp. He had intended his dismissal of Robin’s predecessor to end his contract. “How long have they sent you for?” “A-a week to begin with,” said Robin, who had never been greeted with such a lack of enthusiasm. Strike made a rapid mental calculation. A week at the agency’s exorbitant rate would drive his overdraft yet further into the region of irreparable; it might even be the final straw his main creditor kept implying he was waiting for. “ ’Scuse me a moment.

” He left the room via the glass door, and turned immediately right, into a tiny dank toilet. Here he bolted the door, and stared into the cracked, spotted mirror over the sink. The reflection staring back at him was not handsome. Strike had the high, bulging forehead, broad nose and thick brows of a young Beethoven who had taken to boxing, an impression only heightened by the swelling and blackening eye. His thick curly hair, springy as carpet, had ensured that his many youthful nicknames had included “Pubehead.” He looked older than his thirty-five years. Ramming the plug into the hole, he filled the cracked and grubby sink with cold water, took a deep breath and completely submerged his throbbing head. Displaced water slopped over his shoes, but he ignored it for the relief of ten seconds of icy, blind stillness. Disparate images of the previous night flickered through his mind: emptying three drawers of possessions into a kitbag while Charlotte screamed at him; the ashtray catching him on the brow-bone as he looked back at her from the door; the journey on foot across the dark city to his office, where he had slept for an hour or two in his desk chair. Then the final, filthy scene, after Charlotte had tracked him down in the early hours, to plunge in those last few banderillas she had failed to implant before he had left her flat; his resolution to let her go when, after clawing his face, she had run out of the door; and then that moment of madness when he had plunged after her—a pursuit ended as quickly as it had begun, with the unwitting intervention of this heedless, superfluous girl, whom he had been forced to save, and then placate.

He emerged from the cold water with a gasp and a grunt, his face and head pleasantly numb and tingling. With the cardboard-textured towel that hung on the back of the door he rubbed himself dry and stared again at his grim reflection. The scratches, washed clean of blood, looked like nothing more than the impressions of a crumpled pillow. Charlotte would have reached the underground by now. One of the insane thoughts that had propelled him after her had been fear that she would throw herself on the tracks. Once, after a particularly vicious row in their mid-twenties, she had climbed on to a rooftop, where she had swayed drunkenly, vowing to jump. Perhaps he ought to be glad that the Temporary Solution had forced him to abandon the chase. There could be no going back from the scene in the early hours of this morning. This time, it had to be over. Tugging his sodden collar away from his neck, Strike pulled back the rusty bolt and headed out of the toilet and back through the glass door.

A pneumatic drill had started up in the street outside. Robin was standing in front of the desk with her back to the door; she whipped her hand back out of the front of her coat as he re-entered the room, and he knew that she had been massaging her breast again. “Is—are you all right?” Strike asked, carefully not looking at the site of the injury. “I’m fine. Listen, if you don’t need me, I’ll go,” said Robin with dignity. “No—no, not at all,” said a voice issuing from Strike’s mouth, though he listened to it with disgust. “A week—yeah, that’ll be fine. Er—the post’s here…” He scooped it from the doormat as he spoke and scattered it on the bare desk in front of her, a propitiatory offering. “Yeah, if you could open that, answer the phone, generally sort of tidy up—computer password’s Hatherill23, I’ll write it down…” This he did, under her wary, doubtful gaze. “There you go—I’ll be in here.

” He strode into the inner office, closed the door carefully behind him and then stood quite still, gazing at the kitbag under the bare desk. It contained everything he owned, for he doubted that he would ever see again the nine tenths of his possessions he had left at Charlotte’s. They would probably be gone by lunchtime; set on fire, dumped in the street, slashed and crushed, doused in bleach. The drill hammered relentlessly in the street below. And now the impossibility of paying off his mountainous debts, the appalling consequences that would attend the imminent failure of this business, the looming, unknown but inevitably horrible sequel to his leaving Charlotte; in Strike’s exhaustion, the misery of it all seemed to rear up in front of him in a kind of kaleidoscope of horror. Hardly aware that he had moved, he found himself back in the chair in which he had spent the latter part of the night. From the other side of the insubstantial partition wall came muffled sounds of movement. The Temporary Solution was no doubt starting up the computer, and would shortly discover that he had not received a single work-related email in three weeks. Then, at his own request, she would start opening all his final demands. Exhausted, sore and hungry, Strike slid face down on to the desk again, muffling his eyes and ears in his encircling arms, so that he did not have to listen while his humiliation was laid bare next door by a stranger.

3 FIVE MINUTES LATER THERE WAS a knock on the door and Strike, who had been on the verge of sleep, jerked upright in his chair. “Sorry?” His subconscious had become entangled with Charlotte again; it was a surprise to see the strange girl enter the room. She had taken off her coat to reveal a snugly, even seductively fitting cream sweater. Strike addressed her hairline. “Yeah?” “There’s a client here for you. Shall I show him in?” “There’s a what?” “A client, Mr. Strike.” He looked at her for several seconds, trying to process the information. “Right, OK—no, give me a couple of minutes, please, Sandra, and then show him in.” She withdrew without comment.

Strike wasted barely a second on asking himself why he had called her Sandra, before leaping to his feet and setting about looking and smelling less like a man who had slept in his clothes. Diving under his desk into his kitbag, he seized a tube of toothpaste, and squeezed three inches into his open mouth; then he noticed that his tie was soaked in water from the sink, and that his shirt front was spattered with flecks of blood, so he ripped both off, buttons pinging off the walls and filing cabinet, dragged a clean though heavily creased shirt out of the kitbag instead and pulled it on, thick fingers fumbling. After stuffing the kitbag out of sight behind his empty filing cabinet, he hastily reseated himself and checked the inner corners of his eyes for debris, all the while wondering whether this socalled client was the real thing, and whether he would be prepared to pay actual money for detective services. Strike had come to realize, over the course of an eighteen-month spiral into financial ruin, that neither of these things could be taken for granted. He was still chasing two clients for full payment of their bills; a third had refused to disburse a penny, because Strike’s findings had not been to his taste, and given that he was sliding ever deeper into debt, and that a rent review of the area was threatening his tenancy of the central London office that he had been so pleased to secure, Strike was in no position to involve a lawyer. Rougher, cruder methods of debt collection had become a staple of his recent fantasies; it would have given him much pleasure to watch the smuggest of his defaulters cowering in the shadow of a baseball bat. The door opened again; Strike hastily removed his index finger from his nostril and sat up straight, trying to look bright and alert in his chair. “Mr. Strike, this is Mr. Bristow.

” The prospective client followed Robin into the room. The immediate impression was favorable. The stranger might be distinctly rabbity in appearance, with a short upper lip that failed to conceal large front teeth; his coloring was sandy, and his eyes, judging by the thickness of his glasses, myopic; but his dark gray suit was beautifully tailored, and the shining ice-blue tie, the watch and the shoes all looked expensive. The snowy smoothness of the stranger’s shirt made Strike doubly conscious of the thousand or so creases in his own clothes. He stood up to give Bristow the full benefit of his six feet three inches, held out a hairy-backed hand and attempted to counter his visitor’s sartorial superiority by projecting the air of a man too busy to worry about laundry. “Cormoran Strike; how d’you do.” “John Bristow,” said the other, shaking hands. His voice was pleasant, cultivated and uncertain. His gaze lingered on Strike’s swollen eye. “Could I offer you gentlemen some tea or coffee?” asked Robin.

Bristow asked for a small black coffee, but Strike did not answer; he had just caught sight of a heavy-browed young woman in a frumpy tweed suit, who was sitting on the threadbare sofa beside the door of the outer office. It beggared belief that two potential clients could have arrived at the same moment. Surely he had not been sent a second temp? “And you, Mr. Strike?” asked Robin. “What? Oh—black coffee, two sugars, please, Sandra,” he said, before he could stop himself. He saw her mouth twist as she closed the door behind her, and only then did he remember that he did not have any coffee, sugar or, indeed, cups. Sitting down at Strike’s invitation, Bristow looked round the tatty office in what Strike was afraid was disappointment. The prospective client seemed nervous in the guilty way that Strike had come to associate with suspicious husbands, yet a faint air of authority clung to him, conveyed mainly by the obvious expense of his suit. Strike wondered how Bristow had found him. It was hard to get word-ofmouth business when your only client (as she regularly sobbed down the telephone) had no friends.

“What can I do for you, Mr. Bristow?” he asked, back in his own chair. “It’s—um—actually, I wonder whether I could just check…I think we’ve met before.” “Really?” “You wouldn’t remember me, it was years and years ago…but I think you were friends with my brother Charlie. Charlie Bristow? He died—in an accident—when he was nine.” “Bloody hell,” said Strike. “Charlie…yeah, I remember.” And, indeed, he remembered perfectly. Charlie Bristow had been one of many friends Strike had collected during a complicated, peripatetic childhood. A magnetic, wild and reckless boy, pack leader of the coolest gang at Strike’s new school in London, Charlie had taken one look at the enormous new boy with the thick Cornish accent, and appointed him his best friend and lieutenant.

Two giddy months of bosom friendship and bad behavior had followed. Strike, who had always been fascinated by the smooth workings of other children’s homes, with their sane, well-ordered families, and the bedrooms they were allowed to keep for years and years, retained a vivid memory of Charlie’s house, which had been large and luxurious. There had been a long sunlit lawn, a tree house, and iced lemon squash served by Charlie’s mother. And then had come the unprecedented horror of the first day back at school after Easter break, when their form teacher had told them that Charlie would never return, that he was dead, that he had ridden his bike over the edge of a quarry, while holidaying in Wales. She had been a mean old bitch, that teacher, and she had not been able to resist telling the class that Charlie, who as they would remember often disobeyed grown-ups, had been expressly forbidden to ride anywhere near the quarry, but that he had done so anyway, perhaps showing of —but she had been forced to stop there, because two little girls in the front row were sobbing. From that day onwards, Strike had seen the face of a laughing blond boy fragmenting every time he looked at, or imagined, a quarry. He would not have been surprised if every member of Charlie Bristow’s old class had been left with the same lingering fear of the great dark pit, the sheer drop and the unforgiving stone. “Yeah, I remember Charlie,” he said. Bristow’s Adam’s apple bobbed a little. “Yes.

Well it’s your name, you see. I remember so clearly Charlie talking about you, on holiday, in the days before he died; ‘my friend Strike,’ ‘Cormoran Strike.’ It’s unusual, isn’t it? Where does ‘Strike’ come from, do you know? I’ve never met it anywhere else.” Bristow was not the first person Strike had known who would snatch at any procrastinatory subject —the weather, the congestion charge, their preferences in hot drinks—to postpone discussion of what had brought them to his office. “I’ve been told it’s something to do with corn,” he said, “measuring corn.” “Really, is it? Nothing to do with hitting, or walkouts, ha ha…no…Well you see, when I was looking for someone to help me with this business, and I saw your name in the book,” Bristow’s knee began jiggling up and down, “you can perhaps imagine how it—well, it felt like—like a sign. A sign from Charlie. Saying I was right.” His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. “OK,” said Strike cautiously, hoping that he had not been mistaken for a medium.

“It’s my sister, you see,” said Bristow. “Right. Is she in some kind of trouble?” “She’s dead.” Strike just stopped himself saying, “What, her too?” “I’m sorry,” he said carefully. Bristow acknowledged the condolence with a jerky inclination of the head. “I—this isn’t easy. Firstly, you should know that my sister is—was—Lula Landry.” Hope, so briefly re-erected at the news that he might have a client, fell slowly forwards like a granite tombstone and landed with an agonizing blow in Strike’s gut. The man sitting opposite him was delusional, if not actually unhinged. It was an impossibility akin to two identical snowflakes that this whey-faced, leporine man could have sprung from the same genetic pool as the bronze-skinned, colt-limbed, diamond-cut beauty that had been Lula Landry.

“My parents adopted her,” said Bristow meekly, as though he knew what Strike was thinking. “We were all adopted.” “Uh huh,” said Strike. He had an exceptionally accurate memory; thinking back to that huge, cool, well-ordered house, and the blazing acres of garden, he remembered a languid blonde mother presiding at the picnic table, the distant booming voice of an intimidating father; a surly older brother picking at the fruit cake, Charlie himself making his mother laugh as he clowned; but no little girl. “You wouldn’t have met Lula,” Bristow went on, again as though Strike had spoken his thoughts aloud. “My parents didn’t adopt her until after Charlie had died. She was four years old when she came to us; she’d been in care for a couple of years. I was nearly fifteen. I can still remember standing at the front door and watching my father carrying her up the drive. She was wearing a little red knitted hat.

My mother’s still got it.” And suddenly, shockingly, John Bristow burst into tears. He sobbed into his hands, hunchshouldered, quaking, while tears and snot slid through the cracks in his fingers. Every time he seemed to have himself under some kind of control, more sobs burst forth. “I’m sorry—sorry—Jesus…” Panting and hiccoughing, he dabbed beneath his glasses with a wadded handkerchief, trying to regain control. The office door opened and Robin backed in, carrying a tray. Bristow turned his face away, his shoulders heaving and shaking. Through the open door Strike caught another glimpse of the besuited woman in the outer office; she was now scowling at him from over the top of a copy of the Daily Express. Robin laid out two cups, a milk jug, a sugar bowl and a plate of chocolate biscuits, none of which Strike had ever seen before, smiled in perfunctory fashion at his thanks and made to leave. “Hang on a moment, Sandra,” said Strike.

“Could you…?” He took a piece of paper from his desk and slid it on to his knee. While Bristow made soft gulping noises, Strike wrote, very swiftly and as legibly as he could manage: Please google Lula Landry and find out whether she was adopted, and if so, by whom. Do not discuss what you are doing with the woman outside (what is she doing here?). Write down the answers to questions above and bring them to me here, without saying what you’ve found. He handed the piece of paper to Robin, who took it wordlessly and left the room. “Sorry—I’m so sorry,” Bristow gasped, when the door had closed. “This is—I’m not usually— I’ve been back at work, seeing clients…” He took several deep breaths. With his pink eyes the resemblance to an albino rabbit was heightened. His right knee was still jiggling up and down. “It’s just been a dreadful time,” he whispered, taking deep breaths.

“Lula…and my mother’s dying…” Strike’s mouth was watering at the sight of the chocolate biscuits, because he had eaten nothing for what felt like days; but he felt it would strike an unsympathetic note to start snacking while Bristow jiggled and sniffed and mopped his eyes. The pneumatic drill was still hammering like a machine gun down in the street. “She’s given up completely since Lula died. It’s broken her. Her cancer was supposed to be in remission, but it’s come back, and they say there’s nothing more they can do. I mean, this is the second time. She had a sort of breakdown after Charlie. My father thought another child would make it better. They’d always wanted a girl. It wasn’t easy for them to be approved, but Lula was mixed race, and harder to place, so,” he finished, on a strangled sob, “they managed to get her.

“She was always b-beautiful. She was d-discovered in Oxford Street, out shopping with my mother. Taken on by Athena. It’s one of the most prestigious agencies. She was modeling f-full time by seventeen. By the time she died, she was worth around ten million. I don’t know why I’m telling you all this. You probably know it all. Everyone knew—thought they knew—all about Lula.” He picked up his cup clumsily; his hands were trembling so much that coffee slopped over the edge on to his sharply pressed suit trousers.

“What exactly is it that you would like me to do for you?” Strike asked. Bristow replaced the cup shakily on the desk, then gripped his hands together tightly. “They say my sister killed herself. I don’t believe it.” Strike remembered the television pictures: the black body bag on a stretcher, flickering in a storm of camera flashes as it was loaded into an ambulance, the photographers clustering around as it started to move, holding up their cameras to the dark windows, white lights bouncing off the black glass. He knew more about the death of Lula Landry than he had ever meant or wanted to know; the same would be true of virtually any sentient being in Britain. Bombarded with the story, you grew interested against your will, and before you knew it, you were so well informed, so opinionated about the facts of the case, you would have been unfit to sit on a jury. “There was an inquest, wasn’t there?” “Yes, but the detective in charge of the case was convinced from the outset that it was suicide, purely because Lula was on lithium. The things he overlooked—they’ve even spotted some of them on the internet.” Bristow jabbed a nonsensical finger at Strike’s bare desktop, where a computer might have been expected to stand.

A perfunctory knock and the door opened; Robin strode in, handed Strike a folded note and withdrew. “Sorry, d’you mind?” said Strike. “I’ve been waiting for this message.” He unfolded the note against his knee, so that Bristow could not see through the back, and read: Lula Landry was adopted by Sir Alec and Lady Yvette Bristow when she was four. She grew up as Lula Bristow but took her mother’s maiden name when she started modeling. She has an older brother called John, who is a lawyer. The girl waiting outside is Mr. Bristow’s girlfriend and a secretary at his firm. They work for Landry, May, Patterson, the firm started by Lula and John’s maternal grandfather. The photograph of John Bristow on LMP’s home page is identical to the man you’re talking to.

Strike crumpled the note and dropped it into the waste-paper basket at his feet. He was staggered. John Bristow was not a fantasist; and he, Strike, appeared to have been sent a temp with more initiative, and better punctuation, than any he had ever met. “Sorry, go on,” he said to Bristow. “You were saying—about the inquest?” “Yeah,” said Bristow, dabbing the end of his nose with the wet handkerchief. “Well, I’m not denying that Lula had problems. She put Mum through hell, as a matter of fact. It started around the same time our father died—you probably know all this, God knows there was enough about it in the press…but she was expelled from school for dabbling in drugs; she ran off to London, Mum found her living rough with addicts; the drugs exacerbated the mental problems; she absconded from a treatment center—there were endless scenes and dramas. In the end, though, they realized she had bipolar disorder and put her on the right medication, and ever since then, as long as she was taking her tablets, she was fine; you’d never have known there was anything wrong with her. Even the coroner accepted that she had been taking her medication, the autopsy proved it.

“But the police and the coroner couldn’t see past the girl who had a history of poor mental health. They insisted that she was depressed, but I can tell you myself that Lula wasn’t depressed at all. I saw her on the morning before she died, and she was absolutely fine. Things were going very well for her, particularly career-wise. She’d just signed a contract that would have brought in five million over two years; she asked me to look over it for her, and it was a bloody good deal. The designer was a great friend of hers, Somé, I expect you’ve heard of him? And she was booked solid for months; there was a shoot in Morocco coming up, and she loved the traveling. So you see, there was no reason whatsoever for her to take her own life.” Strike nodded politely, inwardly unimpressed. Suicides, in his experience, were perfectly capable of feigning an interest in a future they had no intention of inhabiting. Landry’s rosy, golden-hued morning mood might easily have turned dark and hopeless in the day and half a night that had preceded her death; he had known it happen.

He remembered the lieutenant in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, who had risen in the night after his own birthday party, of which, by all accounts, he had been the life and soul. He had penned his family a note, telling them to call the police and not go into the garage. The body had been found hanging from the garage ceiling by his fifteen-year-old son, who had not noticed the note as he hurried through the kitchen on the way to fetch his bicycle. “That’s not all,” said Bristow. “There’s evidence, hard evidence. Tansy Bestigui’s, for a start.” “She was the neighbor who said she heard an argument upstairs?” “Exactly! She heard a man shouting up there, right before Lula went over the balcony! The police rubbished her evidence, purely because—well, she’d taken cocaine. But that doesn’t mean she didn’t know what she’d heard. Tansy maintains to this day that Lula was arguing with a man seconds before she fell. I know, because I’ve discussed it with her very recently.

Our firm is handling her divorce. I’m sure I’d be able to persuade her to talk to you. “And then,” said Bristow, watching Strike anxiously, trying to gauge his reaction, “there was the CCTV footage. A man walking towards Kentigern Gardens about twenty minutes before Lula fell, and then footage of the same man running hell for leather away from Kentigern Gardens after she’d been killed. They never found out who he was; never managed to trace him.” With a kind of furtive eagerness, Bristow now drew from an inside pocket of his jacket a slightly crumpled clean envelope and held it out. “I’ve written it all down. The timings and everything. It’s all in here. You’ll see how it fits together.

” The appearance of the envelope did nothing to increase Strike’s confidence in Bristow’s judgment. He had been handed such things before: the scribbled fruits of lonely and misguided obsessions; onetrack maunderings on pet theories; complex timetables twisted to fit fantastic contingencies. The lawyer’s left eyelid was flickering, one of his knees was jerking up and down and the fingers proffering the envelope were trembling. For a few seconds Strike weighed these signs of strain against Bristow’s undoubtedly hand-made shoes, and the Vacheron Constantin watch revealed on his pale wrist when he gesticulated. This was a man who could and would pay; perhaps long enough to enable Strike to clear one installment of the loan that was the most pressing of his debts. With a sigh, and an inner scowl at his own conscience, Strike said: “Mr. Bristow—” “Call me John.” “John…I’m going to be honest with you. I don’t think it would be right to take your money.” Red blotches blossomed on Bristow’s pale neck, and on the undistinguished face, as he continued to hold out the envelope.

“What do you mean, it wouldn’t be right?” “Your sister’s death was probably as thoroughly investigated as anything can be. Millions of people, and media from all over the world, were following the police’s every move. They would have been twice as thorough as usual. Suicide is a difficult thing to have to accept—” “I don’t accept it. I’ll never accept it. She didn’t kill herself. Someone pushed her over that balcony.” The drill outside stopped suddenly, so that Bristow’s voice rang loudly through the room; and his hair-trigger fury was that of a meek man pushed to his absolute limit. “I see. I get it.

You’re another one, are you? Another fucking armchair psychologist? Charlie’s dead, my father’s dead, Lula’s dead and my mother’s dying—I’ve lost everyone, and I need a bereavement counselor, not a detective. D’you think I haven’t heard it about a hundred fucking times before?” Bristow stood up, impressive for all his rabbity teeth and blotchy skin. “I’m a pretty rich man, Strike. Sorry to be crass about it, but there you are. My father left me a sizeable trust fund. I’ve looked into the going rate for this kind of thing, and I would have been happy to pay you double.” A double fee. Strike’s conscience, once firm and inelastic, had been weakened by repeated blows of fate; this was the knockout punch. His baser self was already gamboling off into the realms of happy speculation: a month’s work would give him enough to pay off the temp and some of the rent arrears; two months, the more pressing debts…three months, a chunk of the overdraft gone…four months… But John Bristow was speaking over his shoulder as he moved towards the door, clutching and crumpling the envelope that Strike had refused to take. “I wanted it to be you because of Charlie, but I found out a bit about you, I’m not a complete bloody idiot.

Special investigation branch, military police, wasn’t it? Decorated as well. I can’t say I was impressed by your offices,” Bristow was almost shouting now, and Strike was aware that the muffled female voices in the outer office had fallen silent, “but apparently I was wrong, and you can afford to turn down work. Fine! Bloody forget it. I’m sure I’ll find somebody else to do the job. Sorry to have troubled you!”


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