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Troubled Blood
Author: Robert Galbraith


Then came the iolly Sommer…

Edmund Spenser

The Faerie Queene




And such was he, of whom I haue to tell,

The champion of true Iustice, Artegall…

Edmund Spenser

The Faerie Queene

“You’re a Cornishman, born and bred,” said Dave Polworth irritably. “‘Strike’ isn’t even your proper name. By rights, you’re a Nancarrow. You’re not going to sit here and say you’d call yourself English?”

The Victory Inn was so crowded on this warm August evening that drinkers had spilled outside onto the broad stone steps which led down to the bay. Polworth and Strike were sitting at a table in the corner, having a few pints to celebrate Polworth’s thirty-ninth birthday. Cornish nationalism had been under discussion for twenty minutes, and to Strike it felt much longer.

“Would I call myself English?” he mused aloud. “No, I’d probably say British.”

“Fuck off,” said Polworth, his quick temper rising. “You wouldn’t. You’re just trying to wind me up.”

The two friends were physical opposites. Polworth was short and spare as a jockey, weathered and prematurely lined, his sunburned scalp visible through his thinning hair. His T-shirt was crumpled, as though he had pulled it off the floor or out of a washing basket, and his jeans were ripped. On his left forearm was tattooed the black and white cross of St. Piran; on his right hand was a deep scar, souvenir of a close encounter with a shark.

His friend Strike resembled an out-of-condition boxer, which in fact he was; a large man, well over six feet tall, with a slightly crooked nose, his dense dark hair curly. He bore no tattoos and, in spite of the perpetual shadow of the heavy beard, carried about him that well-pressed and fundamentally clean-cut air that suggested ex-police or ex-military.

“You were born here,” Polworth persisted. “So you’re Cornish.”

“Trouble is, by that standard, you’re a Brummie.”

“Fuck off!” yelped Polworth again, genuinely stung. “I’ve been here since I was two months old and my mum’s a Trevelyan. It’s identity—what you feel here,” and Polworth thumped his chest over his heart. “My mum’s family goes back centuries in Cornwall—”

“Yeah, well, blood and soil’s never been my—”

“Did you hear about the last survey they done?” said Polworth, talking over Strike. “‘What’s your ethnic origin?’ they asked, and half —half—ticked ‘Cornish’ instead of ‘English.’ Massive increase.”

“Great,” said Strike. “What next? Boxes for Dumnones and Romans?”

“Keep using that patronizing fucking tone,” said Polworth, “and see where it gets you. You’ve been in London too fucking long, boy… There’s nothing wrong with being proud of where you came from. Nothing wrong with communities wanting some power back from Westminster. The Scots are gonna lead the way, next year. You watch. When they get independence, that’ll be the trigger. Celtic peoples right across the country are going to make their move.”

“Want another one?” he added, gesturing toward Strike’s empty pint glass.

Strike had come out to the pub craving a respite from tension and worry, not to be harangued about Cornish politics. Polworth’s allegiance to Mebyon Kernow, the nationalist party he’d joined at sixteen, appeared to have gained a greater hold over him in the year or so since they had last seen each other. Dave usually made Strike laugh like almost nobody else, but he brooked no jokes upon Cornish independence, a subject that for Strike had all the appeal of soft furnishings or train-spotting. For a second Strike considered saying that he needed to get back to his aunt’s house, but the prospect of that was almost more depressing than his old friend’s invective against supermarkets that resisted putting the cross of St. Piran on goods of Cornish origin.

“Great, thanks,” he said, passing his empty glass to Dave, who headed up to the bar, nodding left and right to his many acquaintances.

Left alone at the table, Strike’s eyes roamed absently over the pub he’d always considered his local. It had changed over the years, but was still recognizably the place in which he and his Cornish mates had met in their late teens. He had an odd double impression of being exactly where he belonged, and where he’d never belonged, of intense familiarity and of separateness.

As his gaze moved aimlessly from timber floor to nautical prints, Strike found himself looking directly into the large, anxious eyes of a woman standing at the bar with a friend. She had a long, pale face and her dark, shoulder-length hair was streaked with gray. He didn’t recognize her, but he’d been aware for the past hour that certain locals were craning their necks to look at him, or else trying to catch his eye. Looking away, Strike took out his mobile and pretended to be texting.

Acquaintances had a ready excuse for conversation, if he showed the slightest sign of encouraging them, because everyone in St. Mawes seemed to know that his aunt Joan had received a diagnosis of advanced ovarian cancer ten days previously, and that he, his half-sister, Lucy, and Lucy’s three sons had hastened at once to Joan and Ted’s house to offer what support they could. For a week now he’d been fielding inquiries, accepting sympathy and politely declining offers of help every time he ventured out of the house. He was tired of finding fresh ways of saying “Yes, it looks terminal and yes, it’s shit for all of us.”

Polworth pushed his way back to the table, carrying two fresh pints.

“There you go, Diddy,” he said, resuming his bar stool.

The old nickname hadn’t been bestowed, as most people assumed, in ironic reference to Strike’s size, but derived from “didicoy,” the Cornish word for gypsy. The sound of it softened Strike, reminding him why his friendship with Polworth was the most enduring of his life.

Thirty-five years previously, Strike had entered St. Mawes Primary School a term late, unusually large for his age and with an accent that was glaringly different from the local burr. Although he’d been born in Cornwall, his mother had spirited him away as soon as she’d recovered from the birth, fleeing into the night, baby in her arms, back to the London life she loved, flitting from flat to squat to party. Four years after Strike’s birth, she’d returned to St. Mawes with her son and with her newborn, Lucy, only to take off again in the early hours of the morning, leaving Strike and his half-sister behind.

Precisely what Leda had said in the note she left on the kitchen table, Strike had never known. Doubtless she’d been having a spell of difficulty with a landlord or a boyfriend, or perhaps there was a music festival she particularly wanted to attend: it became difficult to live exactly as she pleased with two children in tow. Whatever the reason for her lengthening absence, Leda’s sister-in-law, Joan, who was as conventional and orderly as Leda was flighty and chaotic, had bought Strike a uniform and enrolled him in the local school.

The other four-and-a-half-year-olds had gawped when he was introduced to the class. A few of them giggled when the teacher said his first name, Cormoran. He was worried by this school business, because he was sure that his mum had said she was going to “home school” him. He’d tried to tell Uncle Ted that he didn’t think his mum would want him to go, but Ted, normally so understanding, had said firmly that he had to, so there he was, alone among strangers with funny accents. Strike, who’d never been a great crier, had sat down at the old roll-top desk with a lump like an apple in his throat.

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