Lies Sleeping

Ben Aaronovitch

The following is an exclusive excerpt from Lies Sleeping, by Ben Aaronovitch, the latest in his Sunday Times bestselling Rivers of London contemporary urban fantasy/crime fiction series, which explores the adventures of Peter Grant, detective and apprentice wizard, as he solves magical crimes in the city of London. Ben Aaronovich has additionally written for the TV show Doctor Who. Lies Sleeping is his seventh novel in the Peter Grant series.

We probably should have guessed something like that had happened when the ambulance screeched up and a pair of paramedics charged past us into the house. Me and Guleed didn’t follow them because we were too busy circulating a description of the nanny and warning responding officers not to go anywhere near her until Falcon qualified officers arrived. Then we grabbed a re­sponse car so we could be properly mobile in case she was spotted.

We needn’t have bothered—she’d evaporated into the summer afternoon.

Because we were the second Falcon response team, Nightingale being the first, me and Guleed ended up in a corridor at UCH guarding Richard Williams’s hospital room, along with a reassur­ingly solid member of Protection Command in full ballistic armor and armed with an H& K MP5 submachine gun. Her name was Lucy and she had three children under the age of five.

“Compared to them,” she told us, “I don’t find this job stressful at all.”

You use Protection Command people for this kind of job because unlike SCO19 they’re trained to do guard duty. You want a certain kind of personality who can stand around in the rain for eight hours and still be awake enough to shoot someone in the central body mass at a moment’s notice.

Nightingale and Carey were still out west hunting the Pale Nanny, and Richard Williams was seriously sedated and so wasn’t going to tell us anything, either. Which at least gave us a chance to write up our notes and for me to ask Guleed about the sound of ripping silk and her impossible bit of vertical parkour.

“Ripping silk?” she asked.

“Not really a sound,” I said. “A vestigium—the sort of noise magic makes when you do it.”

And leaves behind in its wake as well, but I try not to overburden my colleagues with too much explanation. Not even Guleed, who I suspected knew way more than she was letting on.

“That,” she said. And smiled.

“That,” I said.

“I’ve been training,” she said.

“With Michael?”

Meaning Michael Cheung, the Folly’s “liaison” in Chinatown and a man whose business card listed his profession as “Legendary Swordsman.”

“It’s just like any other martial arts training. You learn the pat­terns, you practice—you get better.” She leaned closer and tapped my shoulder. “And you don’t know if it’s going to work until you try it for real.”

“Did it work?”

We probably should have guessed something like that had happened when the ambulance screeched up and a pair of paramedics charged past us into the house.

“I think so.”

“Can you teach me?”

She laughed.

“Michael specifically said I wasn’t allowed to. No matter what you said.”

“Why not?”

“Because Nightingale called him up and told him to refuse if you asked.”

“Did he say why?”

“Because you should master at least one tradition before you move on to the next,” said Nightingale, coming up the corridor.

Carey, following behind, gave me and Guleed a grateful look—could sympathize. Keeping up with Nightingale could be knacker­ing. Especially when he was in one of his man‑of‑action moods and forgot that we weren’t all about to parachute into Germany.

We had an impromptu after-action briefing in the corridor before Nightingale sent us off about our business. He was planning to stay outside Richard Williams’s door in the hope that somebody else would turn up and have another go.

“She had the advantage of both me and David,” said Nightingale. “And yet she felt that silencing Richard Williams was more import­ant. That implies to me that he knows something Martin Chorley does not want us to find out.”

He didn’t need to elaborate.

Obviously if it was worth killing Williams for, we really wanted to know what it was.


Guleed, with her sympathetic manner and better interview accredi­tation, was actioned to interview Richard Williams’s wife Fiona. Which involved whisking her off to the pastel colored 1980s retro calm of Belgravia’s Achieving Best Evidence suite and gently prying intimate details of her life out of her while trying not traumatize her further. I was to go over the tapes later to check for Falcon material, but in the meantime I headed back to Chiswick to see if we could learn anything from their happy home.

Fiona was actually wife number two, having met Richard while interning at the company he worked for in 2011. It looked like fast work to me, since he’d only been married to his first wife for five years. They had two daughters, who we’d left in DI Miriam Stepha­nopoulos’ office for the duration of the interview. There was a son by the earlier marriage but he lived with his mother, who’d moved back to King’s Lynn after the divorce.

A POLSA team had already worked over the house looking for covert hiding places and secret stashes of shameful stuff, but had found nothing. All the computers, laptops, phones, and the PlayStation 4 had been whisked off to the Operational Technology Support Unit at Dul­wich to have everything stripped out. We had information analysts on the payroll for this operation and, by God, since it was coming out of the Folly budget we were going to give them something to do.

So I was basically there for the magic—which often hides in plain sight.

Homes are like witnesses. They pretty much lie all the time.

As a police detective—which, by the way, I had officially become just that month—I get to spend a lot of time in people’s houses, often without their consent. Homes are like witnesses. They pretty much lie all the time. But, as Stephanopoulos says, the longer someone lives in a house the more intrinsically interesting the lies become. When you’re police, an interesting lie can be as useful as the truth. Sometimes more so.

The ground floor had been knocked all the way through from front to back. The living room part had a faux antique leather three piece suite and a kidney-shaped glass coffee table with, amazingly, a couple of thick coffee table books on it. The small lie was in the way the seating was arranged to face the, possibly, original Arts and Craft fireplace and not the medium sized flat-screen TV.

We don’t waste time on the idiot box, the room was saying. But the stack of box sets and the fact that both the remote controls, Blu-ray player and TV, were on the coffee table made it a liar. That was the small lie.

The big lie was the complete absence of mangled toys, random pieces of scribbled‑on paper and half-hewed sweets along the whole length of the ground floor. There are no difficult, messy, screaming small humans living in this house. We live in a bubble of serenity.

Now I’m the son of a professional cleaner, but I’m also blessed with enough preschool cousins to cause your average UKIP voter to relocate to Spain, and I know for a fact that there should have been way more chaos downstairs.

She might have been a homicidal creature of the night but I sus­pect our fugitive must have been a really good nanny. That, or she’d traumatized the kids into obedience—we were probably going to have to bring in a special child psychologist to find out. I made a note to check to see whether Guleed had asked about that during the ABE interview.

The kitchen was the kind of brushed steel monstrosity that looks more like it’s designed to weaponize viruses than cook dinner. Just to be on the safe side I checked the fridge for Petri dishes—nothing. But there was a reassuring ton of healthy yogurts for tiny tots and genuinely unadulterated fruit drinks made with real fruit.

Just you wait until they start mixing with real children, I thought, and it’s going to be Mars bars and crisps for all eternity.

There was blood on the gray Italian tiles and yellow evidence markers scattered across the floor and on the counter.

There was blood on the gray Italian tiles and yellow evidence markers scattered across the floor and on the counter. You could see where Nightingale had pulled the nanny off Richard Williams by the spray of blood droplets running diagonally up the wall.

According to Nightingale, they’d just been settling down to a su­perficially pleasant but calculatingly sinister chat in the living room when Richard Williams had popped out to the kitchen to prepare coffee. Something furtive in his manner had alerted Nightingale, who’d already started after him when they heard a crash and a scream.

“I couldn’t tell,” said Nightingale, “who was doing the screaming.”

As per the agreed operational plan, Carey had moved to secure Fiona Williams and the children while Nightingale engaged what­ever it was provoking the screams. In the hallway he’d found the nanny chewing on Richard Williams’s neck. We think she’d been going for his throat, but he’d tried to dodge and she’d ended up tak­ing a chunk out of his right trapezoid muscle instead. Nightingale didn’t give her a chance to have a second go—smacking her in the back of the knees with an impello and trying to physically pin her down.

She’d turned and run at that point—sensibly, she hadn’t wanted to face off against Nightingale.

But why up the stairs? Why not out the back or front doors? She could have had it away over the back fence and garden-hopped to the end of the road. Judging by the speed with which she moved, I doubt our perimeter teams would have even seen her.

There was more blood drip on the stairs and a couple of red hand­prints on the banister’s handrail. I put my forensic booties on, as much to protect my own shoes from cross-contamination as to pre­serve the site, and up I went.

The first floor was more honest than the ground floor. The master bedroom had a custom built king-size bed with carved white head and footboards. The polished floor had coarse wool rugs woven with rectangular blocks of red, blue and yellow, identical to those on the ground floor. There were no visible bookshelves, which always looks weird to me, nor any books by the bed. I was pretty certain this was odd, for people who worked in a “creative” industry, but perhaps they’d gone over to ebooks to save on space.

The walls were painted the same bland white with a hint of white as the living and dining room. It looked fresh, and when I got my nose in the dark corner between the bed and skirting board I found droplets of white paint in the hard to reach places. Done recently, and off the books, because the work hadn’t registered in the official family expenditure. I’d been right. The whole house reeked of being ready for Zoopla, estate agents and home viewings. They’d been planning to sell and had been stripping down for the move. I made a note to action a check of the local charity shops—to see if they’d dumped their books there.

There was a hardback copy of Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant on the side table in the en‑suite bathroom, sitting next to a neat pyramid of toilet paper rolls. The flap of the cover had been tucked into page 15, but there was a thin film of dust on the exposed front.

Nice try, I thought, but one of you bounced right off it, too.

If the master bedroom hinted that the family was moving out, the kids’ bedroom said that nobody had told the girls yet. I’ve been in enough rich people’s houses not to be surprised at the sheer amount of stuff their kids have. Piles of board games and drawing kits and kites and dolls and life-sized teddy bears. The girls had bunk beds, an industrial sized bin full of Lego and enough Barbies, Kens and cheap knock-offs to cast a major stop-motion picture. It was clean but it wasn’t tidy—which was a relief, because I was beginning to worry about what the nanny’s idea of discipline might have been.

And I’m saying that as the son of an African mother.

The bunk beds surprised me, but it turned out that Richard Wil­liams had grabbed the back bedroom to serve as his home office. Again, the room had been recently painted but you could still trace the outline of extensive bracket shelving by the filled‑in screw holes. There was a small blond wood gate-leg table under the window to catch the light and various connection and charging cables, although the tech guys had had it away with the actual laptop and phone. There were a series of cardboard boxes which the POLSA team had methodically opened, leaving their contents neatly piled on the floor awaiting inspection.

Most of it looked like a decade’s worth of invoices, utility bills and insurance forms—that was all going to have to go back to the An­nex. One pile caught my attention. At first I thought they were bro­chures or thick company prospectuses, but they were actually site reports from MOLA—Museum of London Archeology. Slim tech­nical documents with card covers and spiral plastic bindings—full of nice technical drawings and at least thirty pages of endnotes.

Martin Chorley had had an interest in archeology and a romantic view of the Dark Ages—I wondered if this was a connection.

The missing part of the script had been ripped out with some force.

Sitting on its own was part of a film script which the POLSA team had found buried among the insurance documents. It was, I was told later, professionally formatted and had originally been held together with the metal two-hole binders popular with aspiring screenwrit­ers. Part of the binder remained and held shreds of paper that indi­cated that the missing part of the script had been ripped out with some force. Leaving only the first fifteen pages. I read the title.


By Richard Williams & Gabriel Tate

From a story by John Chapman

The opening scene on the next page started.



Which was enough to have me call the Annex and ask for a full IIP check on Gabriel Tate and John Chapman. Since all we had were the names and the connection to Richard Williams they started grumbling almost immediately, but the good thing about Operation Jennifer was that we had now had plenty of bodies to do that sort of thing.

I went up to the loft conversion and saw there was a hole in the roof where Nightingale had thrown the Pale Nanny through it.

I could still feel the sharp tang of the vestigium and detected a weird crispy lemon taste on my tongue that might have been magic or the smell of bathroom cleaner.

“She was going for the front window when I caught up with her,” Nightingale had told me. “There’s quite a good spell for holding peo­ple in place.” He’d held up his hand to stop me asking. “Next year. You will be ready to learn it next year. And it proved less use than you might think, given that our suspect managed to wriggle free.”

Nightingale likes to be precise in his language so when he uses a word like wriggle he means wriggle.

“There was magic involved,” he said, when I asked for a clarifica­tion. “I’m afraid I overreacted and used more force than I should have.”

It was a slightly less impressive throw than it looked at first. The loft conversion had a strong whiff of the Wild West about it; the plasterboard was flimsy and the rafters were widely spaced and the battens were substandard. I reckoned the force of the spell had done most of the material damage while our Pale Nanny had sort of rid­den the force of it out onto the roof.

Quite impressive, really, and not lost on Nightingale.

He’d have followed her out, but he had to run downstairs and make sure Richard Williams didn’t bleed to death.

“This one seems far more capable than the individual you en­countered in Soho,” he’d said.

But who was “this one”?

When we’d done the initial Integrated Intelligence Platform check on the Williams household her name had been listed as Alice McGovern of Leith, Scotland. When the Belgravia follow‑up team finally tracked down the real Alice, she turned out to be a heroin addict currently living in Glasgow who’d sold her identity to a group of entrepreneurial information brokers. They liked using addicts be­cause they generally tried to stay off the grid and, contrary to what people think, can live a long time without coming to the attention of the authorities.

The loft conversion had two bedrooms and a bathroom. The rear bedroom had been turned into a playroom for the children. A half-demolished canvas and bamboo Wendy house sat in the center where light from the window pooled. There were more shelves stuffed with toys and puzzles and picture books. And a cushion nest in the corner for naps, and a pair of pink fairy costumes hanging from a hook on the back of the door.

There was a smell in the front bedroom. It reminded me of the period when I was sharing a house with half a dozen young PCs, and from student digs I’ve visited since. A bit of old sweat and leftovers and overstuffed swing-top bins. The Pale Nanny’s queen-sized bed was unmade and, when I had a sniff, the sheets hadn’t been changed for a couple of weeks. Whoever cleaned the rest of the house hadn’t come into this room.

It too had been painted the same white-with‑a‑hint‑of‑bland as downstairs and furnished during a sale at Ikea. About half the Pale Nanny’s clothes were draped over a straight-backed chair and matching writing desk. The rest were tumbled into drawers with no apparent organization. The Pale Nanny had favored tracksuit bot­toms, T‑shirts and hoodies in pink, sky blue and navy, and her underwear was sensible and cheap.

After the initial engagement with Nightingale she could have gone out the back door but instead she ran up the stairs. Why? Was there something in her room she wanted, something important? Something sentimental?

I checked the drawers again, but there was a stunning absence of cryptic photographs hidden inside.

I sat down on the bed and looked around the room from there.

Nothing sprang out at me, but given the way my day had gone that was probably a good thing.


From LIES SLEEPING, by Ben Aaronovitch. Used with the permission of the publisher, Daw Books. Copyright © 2018 by Ben Aaronovitch.

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