"Urgent assistant required," a female voice says. "Report of a serious knife assault at... number three Swain's Lane, NW8."
There is a pause, then a different voice answers, a police squad car, acknowledging the call and confirming it is inbound.
Up in the Miller house Celia Barnes continues to nod and stare at the floor. The dispatcher will now be telling her that people are coming, that she should stay where she is and—most important of all—that she should not touch anything.
He watches for a few moments more, making sure that Celia Barnes does what she is told and does not move closer to the body or disturb any of the things he has so carefully left to be found.
Somewhere in the distance the dim wail of a siren starts up, rising and falling, and getting louder. He waits until there is no doubt where it's heading, then walks slowly backward, his eyes locked on Celia Barnes for as long as he can still see her, framed in the center of the wall of glass, floating in the reflected sky like a ghost above the graveyard.
Tannahill Khan, halfway down four flights of stairs with three heavy boxes pulling his arms from his sockets, feels the phone buzz in his pocket.
"Shit," he mutters, knowing what a call to that phone means.
He traps the stack of boxes against the wall with his body, pulls the phone from his jacket, and checks the caller ID—Special Ops Dispatch.
"Shit," he murmurs again before answering. "DCI Khan."
"We have a report of a serious assault," the dispatcher says. "Knife attack." She lists the details—home intrusion, female victim, private address in Highgate.
Tannahill does a rough calculation in his head of how much extra pain this is going to add to his already painful day. "OK," he says. "Could you tell the other DCs to pick me up out front of the NoLMS offices."
"Roger." The dispatcher hangs up.
"NoLMS"—North London Murder Squad—Tannahill had stressed the "N" and the "L" but everyone who wasn't in the unit pronounced it "gnomes," largely to take the piss out of anyone who was in it.
Tannahill tucks the phone back in his pocket, adjusts his grip on the stack of boxes, and continues his journey down.
His plan had been to spend the morning going over the data gleaned from the documents in these boxes before the lunchtime press conference where the latest crime stats are due to be released. A few weeks back his boss had given him the heads-up on how bad they were and told him to try and find something in previous figures that made the current ones seem less alarming, particularly in relation to his area of expertise, knife crime. You think these figures are bad, it's nothing compared to 2004—that kind of thing. Spin, basically.
Unfortunately, the only thing Tannahill had found highlighted just how terrible the latest figures really were. He had planned to spend the morning massaging the historical data by lumping other crimes under the general heading of "street crime" to make the old figures seem higher, but now this new case has torpedoed his day. Maybe if people stopped stabbing each other for five minutes he might have a fighting chance of figuring out why people keep stabbing each other every five minutes.
He pushes through the front door of the building and spots a black Mercedes minivan parked across the road on double yellow lines, hazard lights blinking, a black-jacketed driver standing by the open front door smoking a cigarette. Tannahill hefts the boxes to secure his slipping grip and makes his way over. "You the courier?" he asks.
The driver blows smoke out with his reply. "Do I look like a facking courier, mate?"
He is clean-shaven, with short black hair, black T-shirt under a black jacket, wireless buds in his ears, probably Bluetoothed to the phone charging in the cradle visible through the open door of the Mercedes. "Yes," Tannahill says.
The driver drops his cigarette and steps on it as he moves closer until his chest bumps against the stack of evidence boxes, knocking Tannahill back on his heels slightly. "You being funny, mate?" He is short and has to look up at Tannahill, though the height difference doesn't seem to bother him.
Tannahill can smell the sour smoke-and-coffee fog of his breath. He is about to reply when another car appears down the street, a black Volkswagen people carrier, practically identical to the parked Mercedes. It moves slowly, the driver leaning forward in his seat as he checks the numbers of the buildings. The current offices of NoLMS are spread over a couple of rented floors of an ugly anonymous building in Holloway and are almost impossible to find, even with GPS.
"My mistake," Tannahill says, stepping past the angry driver and into the road so the real courier can see him.