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
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
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
“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
“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
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
“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
as he made his way along the paved path towards the back of the
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 door swung open.
He was unprepared for the sight of her. He said, “God
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
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
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
“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
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
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.”
“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
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
Lynley considered the situation. It was more than
Havers knew this, which was why she’d been immobilised.
'Take me to his !at, Barbara. Put on some clothes and
take me to his
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,”
“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
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
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
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
“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
“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
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
“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.
Azhar observed her with his calm, dark eyes. He looked
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
“Where is Nafeeza?” he asked.
“Ilford. Nafeeza and the children live with my
“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
“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
“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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