Black Cathedral

CHAPTER ONE

It was what had happened here, and what was about to happen again, that made it obvious this was the start of it all.

There was nothing very special about the house—a medium-sized English suburban semidetached, built some time in the 1930s, complete with bay windows and a stained glass panel depicting sunrays, set in the solid green-painted front door, so that it looked like sunlight captured on grass; nothing much to set it apart from its neighbors. Except for what had happened there.

The tree-lined avenue was the picture of normality; cars parked either side against the neat verges, hedges precisely clipped, a child’s bicycle on a front drive, the sound of an electric mower buzzing like a sun-lazed bee. The house they were visiting looked welcoming, and would have been a pleasant place to spend the afternoon. Except for what was going to happen again.

Robert Carter hesitated, pushed open the front door and, after taking a deep inward breath, stepped into the house. Sian Davies, his assistant, followed close behind, her pad in hand, pen poised to take down notes and to keep an accurate record of events as they unfolded. Both of them were certain events would unfold.

Carter carried a small device, holding it out in front of him, sweeping the air in broad strokes, like a warrior brandishing his sword. The device looked very much like a photographer’s light meter. It was no more than three inches square and an inch deep. On one end was a small white dome, on the front a dial with calibrations from one to one thousand. But while a photographer’s meter measured light, Carter’s machine could detect the slightest changes, the tiniest fluctuations, in magnetic fields. Perfect for suspected hauntings.

Carter was thirty-five, tall and slim with an athletic physique he owed to the four hours a week he spent at the gym, combined with regular games of squash and racquets. The exercise was complemented by a healthy diet, apart from far too many cigarettes, a light intake of alcohol, and occasional sex with willing partners.

Sian Davies had none of these attributes, and none of the virtues of a healthy lifestyle. She was short, dumpy, with spiky black hair and a small tattoo of a rose on her shoulder. And she had a crush on Robert Carter the size of a small country. Yet despite their close working relationship, Carter was a total mystery to her. There were rumors of a great love affair—some forbidden passion that had ended and left Carter a scarred, emotional wreck. Some of the rumors had even linked him with Jane Talbot, Department 18’s brightest star, but Sian was not sure she set much store by them. She liked and respected Jane Talbot—aspiring in her own small way to be like her— and she knew Jane was happily married.

Sian was worldly enough to know that men like Robert Carter were always the targets for the mythmakers and rumormongers. The scurrilous stories told around the Department’s water coolers were fed and nurtured by jealousy and envy. Sian preferred her own fantasies. They sustained her during long, lonely nights and gave her a reason to get up every morning. Often they weren’t the type of fantasy to share around the coffee machine at work.

‘Ambient temperature in the house low and dropping rapidly.’ Carter was speaking into a small microphone attached to the collar of his shirt and wired to a digital recorder he carried in his jacket pocket. As if to prove his point his breath was starting to mist in front of his face. There was also an oppressive