Read an Excerpt
By Peter Lovesey
Copyright © 1992 Peter Lovesey.
All rights reserved.
An alert shattered the silence in Harrods, a piercing, continuous note. The guard on duty in the security control room, Lionel Kenton, drew himself up in his chair. His hands went to his neck and tightened the knot in his tie. On the control panel in front of him, one of the light-emitting diodes, a red one, was blinking. If the system was functioning properly, someoneor somethinghad triggered a sensor on the seventh floor. He pressed a control that triggered the video surveillance for that floor. Nothing moved on the monitors.
Kenton was the senior security guard that night. He was so senior that he had a shelf above the radiator for his exclusive use. On it were framed photos of his wife, two daughters, the Pope and Catherine Deneuve; an ebony elephant; and a cassette rack of opera tapes. Puccini kept him alert through the night, he told anyone so philistine as to question opera in the control room. None shall sleep. Listening to music was more responsible than reading a paper or a paperback. His eyes were alert to anything on the panel and his ears to any sound that clashed with the music.
He silenced Pavarotti and touched the button that gave him a direct line to Knightsbridge Police Station. They must already have received the alert electronically. He identified himself and said, "Intruder alert. I'm getting a signal from the seventh floor. Furniture. Section nine. Nothing on screen."
"Message received 2247 hours."
"Someone is coming?"
Of course it was. He was betraying some nervousness. He tried another survey of the seventh floor. Nothing untoward was visible, but then he hadn't much faith in video surveillance. Every terrorist knows to keep out of range of a camera.
And he had to assume this was a terrorist.
Twenty-two night security officers were posted in various parts of the store. He, put out a general alert and asked for a second check that all the elevators were switched off. The security doors between sections were already in position and had been since the cleaners left. In the business of counter-terrorism nothing can be taken for granted, but really it wasn't feasible to break into Harrods. The intruderif one was up theremust have hidden when the store closed and remained out of sight. If so, someone's job was on the line. Someone who should have checked section nine. You weren't allowed one mistake in this line of work.
His second-in-command that night, George Bullen, burst in. He'd been patrolling when the alert sounded.
"Whore's it from?"
"It bloody would be."
The furniture department was high risk: a brute to patrol. Wardrobes, cupboards, chests of drawers and units of every description. The nightly check for devices was a wearisome chore. It was conceivablebut in no way excusablethat the guard on duty had been so bogged down opening cupboards and peering into drawers that he'd missed someone lurking out of sight behind the damned things.
Another light flashed on the console and one of the monitors showed headlights entering the delivery bay. The police response couldn't be faulted. Kenton told Bullen to take over and went down to meet them.
Three patrol cars and two vans already. Marksmen and dog-handlers climbing out. More cars arriving, their flashing alarms giving an eerie, blue luminosity to the delivery bay. Kenton felt a flutter in his bowels. The police weren't going to vote him security man of the year if this emergency had been triggered by a blip in the system.
A plainclothes officer stepped out of a car and ran across to him. "You're?"
"You put out the call?"
He admitted it, and his stomach lurched.
"Points of access?"
"Two sets of stairs."
"The section is sealed off by security doors."
"Any of your lads on the stairs?"
"Yes. That's routine. They'll be guarding the stairways above and below level seven."
"Lead the way, then."
Thirty or more uniformed officers, dog-handlers and men in plain clothes, several carrying guns, came with him as he set off at a run through the ground floor to the first stairway. A squad of a dozen or so peeled off and raced up that staircase while he led the remainder to the next.
Mounting seven floors was a fitness test for Lionel Kenton. He was relieved to be told to stop after six and a half, and even more relieved to find four of his own security staff in position as he'd claimed they would be. Now he had a chance to recover normal breathing while radio contact was made with the party on the other stairs.
"What's the layout here?"
Essentially the police marksmen wanted to know how much cover they could rely on. One of Kenton's team, a burly ex-CID officer named Diamond, gave a rapid rundown of the furniture display positioned nearest to the stairs. Peter Diamond was the man responsible tonight for this section. You poor bugger, thought Kenton. You look more sick than I feel.
A team of three marksmen went up the final flight. Others took up positions on the stairs. The rest moved down to the landing below.
This was the worstwaiting for the unknown, while others went up to deal with it.
Someone offered Kenton some chewing gum and he took it gratefully.
Perhaps six nerve-racking minutes went by before there was a crackle on the senior policeman's ratio and a voice reported, "Negative so far."
Two dogs and their handlers were sent up to help.
Another long interval of silence.
Security Officer Diamond was just to the left of Kenton. He had his hands clasped, the fingers interlaced as if in prayer, except that the fingernails were white with pressure.
The last dregs of Kenton's confidence were draining away when someone announced over the scratchy intercom, "We've got your intruder."
"Got him under restraint?" said the man in charge.
"Come and see."
"You're sure he's the only one?"
The tone was reassuring. Strangely so, as if the tension had lifted altogether. Police and security staff dashed up the stairs.
The seventh floor lights were fully on. The marksmen had converged on a section where armchairs and settees were displayed. But they weren't in the attitude of gunmen. They were lounging about as if at a wine and cheese party. Two were seated on the arms of chairs. There was no sign of anyone under arrest.
Suddenly cold with his own sweat, Kenton went over with the others. "But you said you found someone?"
One of them flicked his eyes downwards, towards a sofa.
It was the kind of vast, black corduroy thing that an advertising executive would have in his outer office. At one end was a heap of scatter cushions, brilliant in color. The face looking out from under the cushions was that of a small girl, her hair black and fringed, her eyes Asian in shape. Nothing else of her was visible.
Kenton stared in bewilderment.
"Ah, so," said the senior policeman.
"You're sacking me." Peter Diamond, the guard responsible for section nine on the night the child was found, spoke without rancor. "I know the score."
The score was heavily against him. He wasn't young. Forty-eight, according to his file. Married. Living in West Ken. No kids. An ex-policeman, He'd got to the rank of detective superintendent and then resigned from Avon and Somerset over some dispute with the Assistant Chief Constable. A misunderstanding, someone said, someone who knew someone. Diamond had been too proud to ask for his job back. After quitting the police, he'd taken a series of part-time jobs and finally moved to London and joined the Harrods team.
"I shouldn't say this, Peter," the security director told him, "but you're blood unlucky. Your record here has been exemplary apart from this. You could have looked forward to a more senior post."
"Rules are rules."
"Unfortunately, yes. We'll do the best we can in the way of a reference, but, er ..."
"... security jobs are out, right?" said Diamond. He was inscrutable. Fat menand he was fatoften have faces that seem on the point of turning angry or amused. The trick is to guess which.
The director didn't mind exhibiting his own unease. He shook his head and spread his hands in an attitude of helplessness. "Believe me, Peter, I feel sick to the stomach about this."
"Spare me that."
"I mean it. I'm not confident I would have spotted the kid myself. She was practically invisible under the cushions."
"I lifted the cushions," Diamond admitted.
"She wasn't on that sofa when I did my round. I definitely checked. I always do. It's an obvious place to plant a device. The kid must have been somewhere else and got under them later."
"How could you have missed her?"
"I reckon I took her for one of the cleaners' kids. They bring them in sometimes. Some of them are Vietnamese."
"She's Japanese, I think."
Diamond snapped out of his defeated, mood. "You think? Hasn't she been claimed?"
"Doesn't she know her name?"
"Hasn't spoken a word since she was found. Over at the nick, they spent the whole of today with a string of interpreters trying to coax her to say something. Not a syllable."
"She isn't dumb, is she?"
"Apparently not, but she says nothing intelligible. There's almost no reaction from the child."
"No. She reacts to sound. It's a mystery."
"They'll have to go on TV with her. Someone will know her. A kid found in Harrods at nightit's just the sort of story the media pick up on."
"You don't sound convinced."
"I'm convinced, Peter, all too easily convinced. But there are other considerations, not least our reputation. I don't particularly want it broadcast that a little girl penetrated our security. If the press get on to you, I'd appreciate your not making any statements."
"About security? I wouldn't."
"But you can't muzzle the police. They have no interest in keeping the story confidential. It's going to break somewhere, and soon."
Excerpted from Diamond Solitaire by Peter Lovesey. Copyright © 1992 by Peter Lovesey. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.