EXCERPT - JUST ONE EVIL ACT

     He was still sitting there in front of the hotel in his car when his mobile rang. He was still feeling the pressure of her lips against his cheek and the sudden warmth of her hand on his arm. So deep was he into his thoughts that the mobile’s ringing startled him. He realised at its
sound that he’d not phoned Barbara Havers back as he’d said he would.
     He glanced at his watch.
     It was one a.m. Couldn’t be Havers, he thought. And in the way that the mind will go spontaneously from one thought to another, in the time it took to ?sh the mobile from his pocket, he thought of his mother, he thought of his brother, he thought of his sister, he thought of emergencies and how they generally did occur in the middle of the night because no one made a friendly call at this hour.
     By the time he had the mobile out, he’d decided it had to be a
disaster in Cornwall, where his family home was, a heretofore unknown Mrs. Danvers in their employ having set the place alight. But then he saw it was Havers ringing again. He said into the phone hastily, “Barbara. I am so sorry.”
     “Bloody hell,” she cried. “Why didn’t you ring back? I’ve been sitting here. And he’s alone over there. And I don’t know what to do or what to tell him because the worst of it is that there’s sod all anyone can do to help and I know it and I lied to him and said we’d do something and I need your help. Because there has to be something—”
     “Barbara.” She sounded completely undone. It was so unlike her to babble like this that Lynley knew something was badly wrong.
     “Barbara. Slow down. What’s happened?”
     The story she told came out in disjointed pieces. Lynley was able
to pick up very few details because she was speaking so fast. Her voice was odd. She’d either been weeping— which hardly seemed likely— or she’d been drinking. The latter made little sense, however, considering the urgency of the story she had to tell. Lynley put together what he could, just the salient details:
     The daughter of her neighbour and friend Taymullah Azhar was missing. Azhar, a science professor at University College London, had come home from work to a?nd the family flat stripped of nearly all possessions belonging to his nine- year- old daughter as well as to her mother. Only the child’s school uniform remained, along with a stuffed animal and her laptop, all of this lying on her bed.
     “Everything else is gone,” Havers said. “I found Azhar sitting on my front step when I got home. She’d rung me, too, Angelina had done, sometime during the day. There was a message on my phone.
     Could I look in on him this evening? she’d asked me. ‘Hari’s going to be upset,’ she said. Oh yes, too right. Except he’s not upset. He’s destroyed. He’s wrecked, I don’t know what to do or to say, and Angelina even made Hadiyyah leave that giraffe behind and we both know why because it meant a time when he’d taken her to the seaside and he’d won it for her and when someone took it o" her on the
pleasure pier—”
     “Barbara.” Lynley spoke ?firmly. “Barbara.”
     She breathed in raggedly. “Sir?”
     “I’m on my way.”

#


     Barbara Havers lived in north London, not far from Camden Lock Market. At one in the morning, getting there was merely a matter of knowing the route, as there was virtually no trace. She lived in Eton Villas, where parking one’s car depended upon very good luck. There was none of that at an hour when the residents of the area were all tucked up into their beds, though, so Lynley made do with blocking the driveway.
     Barbara’s digs sat behind a conversion, a yellow Edwardian villa done into flats at some point during the late twentieth century. She herself occupied a structure behind it, a wood- framed building that had once done duty as God only knew what. It had a tiny ?replace, which suggested it had always been used as some sort of living space, but its size suggested that only a single occupant had ever lived there, and one needing very little room.
     Lynley cast a glance at the ground-floor !at inside the conversion
as he made his way along the paved path towards the back of the villa.
     This was, he knew, the home occupied by Barbara’s friend Taymullah Azhar, and the lights within it were still blazing out onto the terrace in front of the flat’s French windows. He assumed from his conversation with Barbara that she’d been inside her own digs when he’d spoken to her, though, and when he got behind the villa, he saw the lights were on inside her bungalow as well.
     He knocked quietly. He heard a chair scraping against the floor.
     The door swung open.
     He was unprepared for the sight of her. He said, “God in heaven.
What have you done?”
     He thought in terms of ancient rites of mourning in which women chopped o" their hair and poured ashes upon the stubble that remained. She’d done the ?rst, but she’d skipped the second. There were, however, ashes aplenty on the small table in what went for the kitchen. She’d sat there for hours, it seemed to Lynley, and in a glass dish that had served as her ashtray, the remains of at least twenty
cigarettes lay crushed, spilling burnt offerings everywhere.
     Barbara looked ravaged by emotion. She smelled like the inside of a ?replace. She was wearing an ancient chenille dressing gown in a hideous shade of mushy- peas green, and her sockless feet were tucked into her red high- top trainers.
     She said, “I left him over there. I said I’d be back but I haven’t been
able to. I didn’t know what to tell him. I thought if you came . . .
     Why didn’t you ring me? Couldn’t you tell . . . Bloody hell, sir, where
the hell . . . Why didn’t you . . . ?”
     “I’m so sorry,” he said. “I couldn’t hear you on my mobile. I was . . . It doesn’t matter. Tell me what happened.”
    Lynley took her arm and guided her to the table. He took away the glass dish of cigarette dog ends as well as an unopened packet of Players and a box of kitchen matches. He put all of this on the worktop of her kitchen area, where he also set the kettle to boil. He rustled in a cupboard and came up with two bags of PG Tips as well as some artificial sweetener, and he excavated through a sink ?filled with unwashed crockery till he discovered two mugs. He washed them, dried them, and went to the small refrigerator. Its contents were as appalling as he’d expected they would be, heavily given to takeaway food cartons and to- be- heated ready- made meals, but among all of this he found a pint of milk. He brought it out as the kettle clicked o".
     Throughout everything, Havers was silent. This was completely uncharacteristic of her. In all the time he’d known the detective sergeant, she’d never been without a comment to toss in his direction, particularly in a situation like this one in which he was not only making tea but actually giving some thought to toast as well. It rather unnerved him, this silence of hers.
     He brought the tea to the table. He placed a mug in front of her.
     There was another sitting near to where the cigarettes had been, and he removed this. It was cold, a skin of someone’s indifference to it floating on its surface.
     Havers said, “That was his. I did the same thing. What is it about tea and our bloody society?”
     “It’s something to do,” Lynley told her.
     “When in doubt, make tea,” she said. “I could do with a whiskey.
Or gin. Gin would be nice.”
     “Have you any?”
     “ ’Course not. I don’t want to be one of those old ladies who sip gin from ?five o’clock in the afternoon till they’re comatose.”
     “You’re not an old lady.”
     “Believe me, it’s out there.”
     Lynley smiled. Her remark was a slight improvement. He pulled the other chair out from the table and joined her. “Tell me.”
     Havers spoke of a woman called Angelina Upman, the apparent mother of Taymullah Azhar’s daughter. Lynley himself had met both Azhar and the girl Hadiyyah, and he’d known that the mother of this child had been out of the picture for some time prior to Barbara’s purchase of the leasehold on her bungalow. But he’d not been told that Angelina Upman had waltzed back into the lives of Azhar and Hadiyyah the previous July, and he’d never learned that not only were Azhar and the mother of his child not married but also that Azhar’s name was not on the birth certi?ficate of the girl.
     Other details came pouring forth, and Lynley tried to keep up with them. It hadn’t been due to the fashion of the times that Azhar and Angelina Upman had remained unmarried. Rather, there had been no marriage possible between them because Azhar had left his legal wife for Angelina, and this was a woman he’d refused to divorce. With her, he had two other children. Where they all lived was something Barbara didn’t know.
     What she did know was that Angelina had seduced Azhar and Hadiyyah into believing she’d returned to take her rightful place in their lives. She needed to obtain their trust, Barbara said, so that she could lay her plans and execute them.
     “That’s why she came back,” Barbara told him. “To get everyone’s
trust. Mine included. I’ve been a bloody idiot most of my life. But this one . . . I’ve sodding outdone myself.”
     “Why did you never tell me any of this?” Lynley asked.
     “Which part?” Havers asked. “Because the bloody idiot part I
would’ve expected you already knew.”
     “The part about Angelina,” he said. “The part about Azhar’s wife, the other children, the divorce or lack thereof. All of that. Any of that. Why didn’t you tell me? Because you certainly must have felt . . .”
     He could say no more. Havers had never spoken of her feelings either for Azhar or for his young daughter, and Lynley had never asked. It had seemed more respectful to say nothing when the truth, he admitted, was that saying nothing had just been the easier thing to do.
     “I’m sorry,” he said.
     “Yeah. Well, you were occupied anyway. You know.”
     He knew she was talking about his affair with their superior officer at the Met. He’d been discreet. So had Isabelle. But Havers was no fool, she hadn’t been born recently, and she was nothing if not acutely percipient when it came to him.
     He said, “Yes. Well. That’s over, Barbara.”
     “I know.”
     “Ah. Right. I expect you do.”
     Havers turned her tea mug in her hands. Lynley saw it bore a caricature of the Duchess of Cornwall, helmet- haired and square- smiled.
     Unconsciously, she covered this caricature with her hand as if in apology to the unfortunate woman. She said, “I didn’t know what to tell him, sir. I came home from work and I found him sitting on my front step.
     He’d been there hours, I think. I took him back to his !at once he’d told me what happened— that she’d taken o" and that Hadiyyah was with her— and I had a look round and I swear to God, when I saw she’d taken everything with her, I didn’t know what to do.”
     Lynley considered the situation. It was more than difficult and
     Havers knew this, which was why she’d been immobilised. He said,
     'Take me to his !at, Barbara. Put on some clothes and take me to his
!at.”
     She nodded. She went to the wardrobe and rooted around for some clothes, which she clutched to her chest. She started to head towards the bathroom, but she stopped. She said to him, “Ta for not mentioning the hair, sir.”
     Lynley looked at her shorn and ruined head. “Ah, yes,” he said.
     “Get dressed, Sergeant.”
? ? ? ? ? ?
     Barbara Havers felt appreciably better now that Lynley had arrived. She knew she should have been able to do something to take hold of the reins of the situation, but Azhar’s grief had undone her. He was a self- contained man and had always been so in the nearly two years that she had known him. As such, he’d played his cards so close that most of the time she could have sworn he had no cards at all. To see him broken by what his lover had done and to know that she herself should have recognised from their fi?rst meeting that something was up with Angelina Upman and with all of Angelina Upman’s overtures of friendship towards her . . . This was enough to break Barbara as well.
     Like most people, she’d seen only what she wanted to see in Angelina Upman, and she’d ignored everything from red flags to speed bumps. Meantime, Angelina had seduced Azhar back to her bed.
     She’d seduced her daughter into abject devotion. She’d seduced Barbara into unwitting conspiracy through garnering her cooperative silence about everything having to do with Angelina herself. And this— her disappearance with her daughter in tow— was the result.
     Barbara got dressed in the bathroom. In the mirror she saw how terrible she looked, especially her hair. Her head bore great bald patches in spots, and in other spots the remains of what had been an expensive Knightsbridge hairstyle sprang out of her scalp like so many weeds waiting to be pulled from a garden. The only answer to what she’d done to herself was going to be to shave her head completely but she didn’t have time to do that just then. She came out of the bathroom and rooted for a ski cap in her chest of drawers. She put this on and together she and Lynley returned to the front of the house.
     Everything was as she’d left it in Azhar’s !at. The only difference was that instead of sitting staring at nothing, Azhar was walking aimlessly through the rooms. When, hollow- eyed, he looked in their direction, Barbara said to him, “Azhar, I’ve brought DI Lynley from the Met.”
     He’d just emerged from Hadiyyah’s bedroom. He was clutching the little girl’s stuffed giraffe to his chest. He said to Lynley, “She’s taken her.”
     “Barbara’s told me.”
     “There’s nothing to be done.”
     Barbara said, “There’s always something to be done. We’re going to fi?nd her, Azhar.”
     She felt Lynley shoot her a look. It told her that she was making promises that neither he nor she could keep. But that was not how Barbara saw the situation. If they couldn’t help this man, she thought, then what was the point of being cops?
     Lynley said, “May we sit?”
     Azhar said yes, yes, of course, and they went into the sitting room.
     It was still fresh from Angelina’s redecoration of it. Barbara saw it now as she should have seen it when Angelina unveiled it to her: like something from a magazine, perfectly put together but otherwise devoid of anyone’s personality.
     Azhar said as they sat, “I telephoned her parents once you left.”
     “Where are they?” she asked.
     “Dulwich. They wished not to speak to me, of course. I am the ruination of one of their two children. So they will not contaminate themselves through any effort to be of assistance.”
     “Lovely couple,” Barbara noted.
     “They know nothing,” Azhar said.
     “Can you be sure of that?” Lynley asked.
     “From what they said and who they are, yes. They know nothing about Angelina and, what’s more, they do not want to know. They said she made her bed a decade ago and if she doesn’t like the smell of the sheets, it’s not down to them to do anything about that.”
     “There’s another child, though?” Lynley said, and when Azhar looked confused and Barbara asked, “What?” he clarified with, “You said you were the ruination of one of their two children. Who is the other and might Angelina be with this person?”
     “Bathsheba,” Azhar said. “Angelina’s sister. I know only her name but have never met her.”
     “Might Angelina and Hadiyyah be with her?”
     “They have no love for each other as I gather these things,” Azhar
said. “So I doubt it.”
     “No love for each other according to Angelina?” Barbara asked sharply. The implication was clear to both Lynley and Azhar.
     “When people are desperate,” Lynley said to the man, “when they plan something like this— because it would have taken some planning, Azhar— old grudges are often put to rest. Did you ring the sister? Do you have the number?”
     “I know only her name. Bathsheba Ward. I know nothing else. I’m
sorry.”
     “Not a problem,” Barbara said. “Bathsheba Ward gives us something to start with. It gives us a place to—”
     “Barbara, you are being kind,” Azhar said. “As are you”— this to Lynley— “to come here in the dead of night. But I know the reality of my situation.”
     Barbara said hotly, “I told you we’ll ?nd her, Azhar. We will.”
     Azhar observed her with his calm, dark eyes. He looked at Lynley.
     His expression acted as acknowledgement of something Barbara didn’t want to admit and certainly didn’t want him to have to face. Lynley said, “Barbara’s told me there’s no divorce involved between you and Angelina.”
     “As we were not married, there is no divorce. And because there was no divorce between me and my wife— my legal wife— Angelina did not identify me as Hadiyyah’s father. Which was, of course, her right. I accepted this as one of the outcomes of not divorcing Nafeeza.”
     “Where is Nafeeza?” he asked.
     “Ilford. Nafeeza and the children live with my parents.”
     “Could Angelina have gone to them?”
     “She has no idea where they live, what their names are, anything about them.”
     “Could they have come here, then? Could they have tracked her down, perhaps? Could they have wooed her out there?”
     “For what purpose?”
     “Perhaps to harm her?”
     Barbara could see how this was entirely possible. She said, “Azhar, that could be it. She could have been taken. This could look like something it isn’t at all. They could have come for her and taken Hadiyyah as well. They could have packed everything. They could have forced her to make that call to me.”
     “Did she sound like someone under duress in the phone message, Barbara?” Lynley asked her.
     Of course, she had not. She’d sounded just as she’d always sounded, which was perfectly pleasant and completely open to friendship. “She could have been acting,” Barbara said although even she could hear how desperate she sounded. “She fooled me for months. She fooled Azhar. She fooled her own daughter. But maybe she wasn’t fooling at all. Maybe she never intended to leave. Maybe they came for her out of the blue and they’ve taken her somewhere and she had to leave that message and they forced her to sound—”
     “You can’t have it both ways,” Lynley said, although his voice was
kind.
     “He is right,” Azhar said. “If she was forced to make a phone call, if she was taken from here— she and Hadiyyah— against her will, she would have said something in that phone call to you. She would have left a sign. There would be some indication, but there is not.
     There is nothing. And what she did leave— Hadiyyah’s school uniform, her laptop, that little giraffe— this was to tell me that they are not returning.” His eyes grew red- rimmed.
     Barbara swung to Lynley. He was, she had long known, the most compassionate cop on the force and quite possibly the most compassionate man she’d ever met. But she could see upon his face that what he felt— beyond sympathy for Azhar— was knowledge of the truth in front of them. She said to him, “Sir. Sir.”
     He said, “Aside from checking with the families, Barbara . . . She’s the mother. She’s broken no law. There’s no divorce with a judge’s decree and a custody ruling that she’s defying.”
     “A private enquiry then,” Barbara said. “If we can do nothing, then a private detective can.”
     “Where am I to ?find such a person?” Azhar asked her.
     “I can be that person,” Barbara told him.

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