Authors: James Craig
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General
They had finally made it on to Park Lane and, stuck behind a procession of tourist coaches, they were crawling north at an average speed of about four miles per hour. It was sweltering in the back of the cab and Paula moved to open her window. Immediately, the white guy reached over and smacked her hand away from the button.
‘Leave it!’ he said angrily. He was sweating heavily himself. She could see that he was wearing heavy make-up, like an actor or a TV presenter. As the temperature rose further, it looked as if his face was beginning to melt.
The traffic began edging slowly towards the next set of traffic-lights. Overhead, Paula could make out the steady thud of a helicopter. ‘Where are we going?’ she asked, her voice barely a whisper, as she pulled her skirt towards her knees.
‘Don’t worry about that,’ the white guy grinned. ‘Just sit back and enjoy the ride.’
After what seemed like an eternity, the last of the alarms fell silent.
Thank fuck for that
. Carlyle rubbed the back of his head, trying to forestall the headache that he knew was brewing. Folding his arms, he stood in the middle of St James’s Diamonds and looked down at the protective powder-blue booties over his shoes.
Why did they have to be powder blue?
he wondered sourly.
It just makes you look like even more of a dick than is necessary.
Careful to avoid stepping on anything, he turned slowly through 360 degrees, taking in the scene. The store had been badly damaged, with glass and jewellery strewn across the floor, along with empty display cases. On first glance, the whole thing looked like an amateurish smash and grab raid. How much had actually been taken was far from clear.
The clock on the wall read 5.52 p.m. It was less than an hour since the alarms had been activated. The raiders had left on foot; if they were going to nab them red-handed, he would have expected it to have happened by now. At the very least, he would have expected them to have dumped the shop assistant. He listened to a police radio on the counter cackle with impotent activity. There had been no sightings since they dropped off New Bond Street – amazing in itself, given that there could hardly be an inch of the neighbourhood that wasn’t covered by multiple CCTV cameras. Maybe they’d gone to ground. But where? Even if they had organized somewhere to hide out, that would require the kind of careful planning – not to mention balls of steel – that seemed at odds with the mess he was looking at in the store. So, what would that leave? Hiding in plain sight?
Carlyle was aware of the London rush-hour continuing undisturbed around him.
There are millions of people out there
, he told himself,
and you are looking for three of them.
They had to get them straight away or prepare for the long haul. It was looking like this was going to be taking over his life for the foreseeable future. Trying to recover some over-priced baubles that no real person could ever afford – these types of cases bored the shit out of him. Basically, you were working for the insurance company. Big fucking deal.
Catching a whiff of ammonia, Carlyle looked down at the pool of piss on the floor in front of him. Glancing over at Russell Blake, the chief forensic technician currently at the scene, he tried not to grin.
‘Who pissed themselves?’ he asked quietly.
Blake, a no-nonsense guy in his mid-thirties, who had worked for the West Yorkshire Police before transferring to the Met three years earlier, showed no such restraint. ‘It were t’store manager,’ he said, in a much louder voice than was necessary, his thick Bradford accent incongruous in the rarefied environs of W1. He nodded in the direction of an ashen-faced guy standing in the corner, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible. ‘He lost it when they made him lie on t’floor and pointed a gun at his head.’
Carlyle caught the manager’s eye and looked away, embarrassed. He felt a wave of sympathy for the guy, having to stand there in his damp trousers. ‘That’s fair enough,’ he shrugged. ‘No one wants to die on the job, after all.’ Standing next to the manager, a huge, shaven-headed Asian guy was sucking on an inhaler. By Carlyle’s estimate, he had to be at least six foot two and sixteen stone. He lowered his voice still further. ‘Who’s the giant?’
‘Security guard,’ Blake replied. ‘He suffered an asthma attack during t’robbery.’
‘No one’s covering themselves in glory today,’ Carlyle quipped. He smiled at Alison Roche, who had appeared at Blake’s side.
Roche put her hands on her hips and sighed. ‘They’ve lost them.’
Carlyle gritted his teeth and looked at Blake. ‘Will you get much here?’ he asked, gesturing at the chaos of the store interior.
‘You bet,’ Blake told him. ‘We’ll get plenty. The question is whether we’ll get owt that’s of any use. And it’s gonna take ages.’
‘Okay,’ Carlyle nodded. ‘Understood.’ Carefully picking a path back towards the door, he gestured for Roche to join him outside.
A block of the street had been cordoned off and a couple of uniforms were marshalling curious onlookers at each end. Carlyle watched idly as a TV crew arrived at the north end of the cordon and began shooting some general views. Stepping away from the technicians on their hands and knees on the pavement in front of the store, he looked up at the police helicopter still hovering overhead. Pulling one of his mobiles out of the breast pocket of his jacket, he pulled up his recent call list and rang his wife. He listened to it ring, feeling a small sense of relief when it became apparent that Helen wasn’t going to pick up.
Once the voicemail kicked in, he left a terse message. ‘It’s me. Something’s come up and it looks like I’m going to be late tonight. Maybe very late. Sorry. Give Alice a kiss for me and I’ll call you later when I’ve got a better idea about what’s going on. Bye.’
Slipping on a pair of sunglasses, Roche waited for him to finish his call. ‘Bit of a mess, eh?’
Carlyle said, ‘Yup. Any idea how much they took?’
‘Too early to tell. Millions maybe, assuming they can sell it at anything approaching a reasonable price.’
‘What do we know about the missing shop assistant?’
Roche began reciting what she had gleaned so far from her preliminary chat with the manager. As always, Carlyle was impressed by her ability to retain all the key facts in her head without reference to notes. ‘Paula Coulter, twenty-three. Worked there for almost three years. Lives in Theydon Bois with her parents. A couple of local uniforms have been sent to the house,’ Roche gestured in the direction of the camera crew, which had just been joined by a second, ‘so that they don’t see it on the TV first.’
Carlyle snorted. ‘I’m not sure most people wouldn’t prefer getting the news from a bimbo reporter, rather than some pimply youth in a uniform. Anyway, we know for sure that she was taken against her will?’
Roche jerked a thumb at the shattered shopfront. ‘That’s what the other two said. Why? Are you thinking inside job?’
‘Something like this, you’ve always got to look at the possibility.’ Carlyle thrust his arms out wide and smiled. ‘But, of course, we will never jump to any conclusions.’
Roche gave him a sharp
don’t tell me how to suck eggs
look. ‘Of course not, Inspector.’
‘We need to go through the usual drill,’ said Carlyle ignoring her irritation, ‘check her bank records, phone calls, friends, et cetera, et cetera. Speak to the desk and see who else we can pull in to this.’
‘Fine,’ said Roche doubtfully, ‘but he’ll just try and palm me off with the new PCSOs.’ Police Community Support Officers were volunteers known as ‘plastic policemen’.
Carlyle adopted what he hoped was an imperious pose. ‘Tell him that I will not tolerate any plastics on this case. No fucking way. This is far too serious.’ He mentioned the names of a couple of regular constables. ‘See if we can get them.’
‘Right. Take the manager and the security guy back to Charing Cross and get the interviews started.’
‘And get someone with an attention span longer than that of a goldfish started on going through the store’s CCTV pictures.’
‘And see if we can find the manager a clean pair of trousers or something,’ Carlyle added, immediately wondering what the ‘or something’ might be.
Roche mumbled an indistinct reply, which he presumed was in the affirmative. But something further down the street had caught her eye and he no longer had her full attention. ‘Oh Christ!’ she breathed. ‘What’s
Carlyle spun round in time to see a rather overweight, fifty-something officer in full dress uniform heading towards them at an uncomfortable trot, followed by a young flunky who was struggling to keep up. He barely had time to remove any expression from his face before the man was upon him.
‘Commander Dugdale.’ Carlyle thrust out a pre-emptive hand and allowed it to be crushed in an equally pre-emptive show of excessive force.
‘Inspector,’ said Dugdale, his gaze on Roche. ‘Sergeant.’
‘Commander,’ Roche nodded.
The flustered flunky appeared at Dugdale’s side – a small blonde woman in a cheap grey trouser-suit and a white blouse who looked about twelve and, on first glance, had no distinguishing features whatsoever. ‘Judith Mahon,’ she smiled weakly. ‘Met Press Office.’
Disregarding the PR woman, Carlyle eyed Dugdale suspiciously. Their paths had crossed once before, on a case where Carlyle had worked with one of Dugdale’s officers in SO15, the Counter Terrorism Command Unit. Things hadn’t ended happily, not least for the SO15 officer, David Ronan, who had been murdered in the line of duty. Externally, the Met had put a brave face on the whole thing, holding the usual enquiry to sweep as much as possible under the carpet. Internally, the matter was deemed a complete fiasco and Dugdale, who had been conspicuously behind the curve, had shouldered much of the blame. His career prospects had taken a serious hit and any lingering thoughts he might have had about reaching the dizzy heights of Assistant Commissioner had been destroyed. Carlyle, with no career prospects to begin with, simply shrugged the matter off. He knew perfectly well, however, that he had made another senior enemy in the process.
Dugdale’s watery blue eyes flicked up and down the road before settling back on Carlyle. In his turn, the Inspector made no attempt to hide the fact that he was scrutinizing his superior carefully. Up close, Dugdale seemed to have aged a decade in less than a year. He was heavier than Carlyle remembered and the colour in his cheeks suggested a considerable taste for drink. His expression was that of a man with a bad case of piles.
‘Is everything under control, Inspector?’
‘Er, yes,’ Carlyle said, trying to keep the bemusement out of his voice. ‘But I’m not aware that there’s anything here that will be of interest to SO15.’
Dugdale shot him a filthy look. ‘I would have thought you knew . . .’
Carlyle gave a gesture signifying his complete absence of knowledge.
‘I left SO15 at the beginning of the year,’ Dugdale said stiffly. ‘As of right now I will be standing in for Commander Simpson while she is in Canada.’
Oh fucking great, the perfect end to a perfect day.
‘So I will need a full update on the situation here, as will Miss . . .’
‘Mahon,’ interjected the PR girl, making it sound like
‘Miss Mahon,’ Dugdale continued, ‘will need to organize a press briefing.’
‘No problem,’ said Carlyle, grinning inanely. ‘Sergeant Roche will get you up to speed while I proceed with the investigation.’ Ignoring the annoyed look on Roche’s face, he turned on his heel and began marching quickly down the street.
Carlyle stepped into interview room B3 and looked around as if he hadn’t seen it in a while. His eye caught the remains of the bullet camera hanging from the wall in the corner and he let out a small laugh.
‘What happened to that?’
Carlyle turned to Martin Luckman and shrugged. ‘Dunno.’
Raising his eyebrows, the St James’s Diamonds store manager took a sip from a can of Coke. Placing the can on the table next to an open packet of Benson & Hedges, he watched as Carlyle pulled out the chair on the opposite side of the desk and sat down.
‘I’m Inspector John Carlyle,’ he said in what he hoped was a reassuring manner as he took his first close look at the man. ‘I will be leading the investigation into this afternoon’s events.’
Luckman nodded. He was not particularly tall – it was hard to guess his height with him sitting down, but maybe five foot eight – with a slight build and curly, sandy hair that reached his shirt collar at the back but was receding at the temples. With a bland, oval face and a worried expression, he certainly didn’t look like the kind of guy who you would go to, to spend a hundred grand on a watch.
Luckman dropped his gaze to the table and began playing with his cigarette packet.
‘I’m sorry,’ said Carlyle officiously. ‘You can’t smoke in here.’
‘No, of course.’ Luckman closed the lid on the Benson & Hedges and placed it back on the table.
‘I work with Sergeant Roche,’ Carlyle continued, ‘who has already spoken to you at New Bond Street.’ Resisting the urge to look under the table to see if Luckman had managed to change his trousers, he tried a surreptitious sniff. Unable to detect any lingering odour of piss coming from the witness, he pulled his chair closer to the table.
‘Nice lady,’ said Luckman, in a way that suggested he would rather continue that conversation than start a new one with the inspector.
‘She is next door speaking to your security guard, Mohammed.’
‘Mo,’ Luckman smiled. ‘Mo Hendricks. He’s a lovely guy.’ The smile mutated into a frown. ‘I was really worried when he started wheezing like that. I knew he had asthma, but he’d never been as bad as that.’
‘I presume,’ said Carlyle, unencumbered by any knowledge about the condition, ‘that the stress of the robbery will have brought on the attack. I’m sure he’ll be okay after a good night’s sleep.’
‘Yes,’ Luckman said, taking another swig of his Coke. ‘But what about Paula?’
Carlyle made a face. ‘No news yet. But we have a lot of people out looking for her.’