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Authors: Simon Kernick

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Crime

Siege (2 page)

BOOK: Siege
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His plan was simple. Pull her inside the gate, break her neck with one quick yank, and hide the body in the bushes. Then throttle the yappy little hounds.

The old lady stopped, but she was looking past Fox, who was still grinning from ear to ear, and towards the van and Bull. That was the flaw in the plan. Bull. He was sure the big oaf was trying not to look suspicious and coming across guilty as sin. Or worse still, giving the old bitch one of his dead-eyed glares.

Fox, though, was closing in on her. He kept talking, trying to allay her suspicions. ‘We’re meant to be delivering a washing machine, but there’s no answer …’

Three more seconds and she’d be his.

But the old lady suddenly looked scared. ‘I’m sorry I can’t help,’ she said quickly, and before he could put out a hand to grab her she turned on her heel and hurried beyond the gate, just as a UPS truck came past, slowing down to negotiate the parked cars on either side of the road.

Fox cursed and walked quickly back to the van.

‘You didn’t give her one of your looks, did you?’ he said to Bull, getting in alongside him.

Bull shook his head, his expression defensive. ‘I didn’t look at her at all, Fox. Honest.’ His voice was deep yet with an irritating childlike whine to it.

Fox sighed, knowing there was no point pursuing the matter, and he started the engine and pulled out of the drive.

The old lady was twenty yards away now with her back to them, her head cocked slightly as if she was listening out for signs of pursuit. It was almost light, way too risky for them to try anything now, so he drove off in the opposite direction, hoping that by the time she realized the significance of what she’d just seen it would be far too late for her, or anyone else, to do anything about it.

It started to rain, that cold November drizzle that goes right through to the bones, and as Fox looked up at the leaden grey sky he thought that it really was an awful day.

And for many people, not least the ones in the back of the van, it was soon going to get a whole lot worse.

Seven Hours Later
2

15.05

SO SHE’D FINALLY
done it. Got engaged. She was twenty-eight years old – near enough an old woman in the eyes of her parents’ generation. In fact, her mother had already had three children by the time she’d turned twenty-eight. But unlike her mother, who’d married young and stayed at home to raise her family, Elena Serenko had put everything into her career. In the ten years since she’d come to London from Poland she’d risen from a night receptionist in a rundown dump in Catford to the youngest duty manager at the 320-room Stanhope Hotel on Park Lane, one of the West End’s most prestigious five-star establishments. Not a bad achievement for a girl from rural Krasnystaw.

And now, after all that, it looked like she would be leaving. Her boyfriend of eighteen months – sorry, fiancé – Rod was Australian, and he wanted them to go out there to live. He’d been on about it for months now. His family home was in a coastal town an hour south of Sydney, and she knew how much he missed the sunshine and the ocean. To be fair, after a decade in grey, drizzly London, Elena was tempted too. Australia seemed a long way to go and would leave her thousands of miles from her family and close friends. But she’d always wanted to travel, having been born with a sense of adventure, and she knew she’d always regret it if she didn’t at least give life out there a go.

So when Rod had proposed to her out of the blue the previous evening in the lounge of the flat they shared, she’d replied with a delighted yes, because for all his faults (and, like all men, he had plenty) she truly loved him. He’d then dropped his second bombshell, saying he wanted to be home for Christmas. For good. With her.

But Christmas was only five weeks away, which meant she’d have to give in her notice within the next few days. She’d asked Rod for a couple of days to think about it, as it was all so sudden, and because of the man he was, he’d agreed. But as she walked across the Stanhope’s grand lobby, instinctively checking that the flowers in the vases lining the walls were all fresh and properly arranged, Elena Serenko made up her mind. Just like that. She wasn’t normally impulsive, but as soon as the decision was made she knew it was the right one. She was going to go and start a new life on the other side of the world.

The thought filled her with a mix of nervousness and excitement, and she vowed to call Rod and tell him the good news as soon as she had a spare moment. Right now, though, she had to deal with a more pressing issue. Mr Al-Jahabi.

Mr Al-Jahabi was one of the hotel’s regulars, a wealthy Saudi who was often in London on business and who, along with his family, usually took several of the penthouse suites for the whole of August to escape the desert heat. As such, he was a hugely valued customer as well as a very large tipper. However, he also had a sex drive that, as far as Elena could tell, was off the scale. He engaged the services of prostitutes every night his wives weren’t with him. This wasn’t a problem in and of itself. A significant minority of single male guests at the Stanhope (and at most other hotels) entertained escorts in their rooms, and any attempt to stop the practice was always going to be doomed to failure. So if things were done discreetly, a blind eye could be turned. The problem with Mr Al-Jahabi was that prostitutes weren’t always enough. On at least three occasions over the past year he’d made passes at female employees. On one of those occasions a chambermaid had actually alleged a sexual assault, and was prepared to go to the police until Mr Al-Jahabi paid her off with a £1,000 tip, or bribe, depending on how you wanted to look at it. The chambermaid, a Filipina girl, had left not long afterwards. This had been six months back and since then Mr Al-Jahabi had been behaving himself – or at least keeping matters under control.

That was until earlier that afternoon.

According to Colin, the duty manager on the seven a.m. to three p.m. shift, a maid had gone in to clean his room at just after one and had been confronted by a naked and aroused Mr Al-Jahabi who’d requested something called (in Colin’s words) ‘a happy finish’. The maid had run from the room and immediately complained to her boss, Mohammed the maintenance manager, who’d then informed Colin. According to Colin, he’d managed to calm the maid down, made sure that she wouldn’t take things any further, said he’d sort it, and given her the rest of the day off.

Except he hadn’t sorted it. Instead he’d made up some excuse about having to deal with a family who were refusing to leave their room, and had left it to Elena to speak to Mr Al-Jahabi, which was typical of Colin. No one wanted to upset Mr Al-Jahabi, for fear he’d take his extremely valuable custom elsewhere, citing them as the reason. But Elena knew she was going to have to raise the issue. She just wished she hadn’t still got the vestiges of a painful hangover from the celebrations of the previous night. Five a.m. was no time to go to sleep when you were working the next day, even if you didn’t start until three o’clock in the afternoon.

On her way up, Elena made a quick check of the mezzanine floor to ensure that the ballroom had been cleaned properly after the three-day conference that had finished in there that morning (it had, and it looked immaculate), then slipped into the satellite kitchen behind it.

Like all big hotels, the Stanhope had a number of satellite kitchens situated at catering points in the building where food from the main kitchens on the ground floor could be reheated before being served to guests, thus ensuring that it was piping hot when it reached the table. The kitchen behind the ballroom contained a walk-in store cupboard which was a favourite among certain members of staff for taking a sneaky nap in, because there was a crawlspace beneath the bottom shelf where a person could lie out straight and not be seen. So popular was it that a few months earlier two Bangladeshi cleaners had even come to blows over which of them should sleep there, resulting in one ending up in hospital with a broken nose after the other had struck him with a family-sized tin of pineapple chunks. Since then there’d been talk of boarding the space up, but so far no one had got round to it, probably because pretty much everyone had put their head down there at one time or another, including Elena herself (though only once, and for barely ten minutes).

Feeling oddly mischievous, Elena tiptoed over to the store cupboard door and gently opened it, bending down in the near-darkness so she could see inside the space, although from the sound of gentle snoring she already knew there was someone in there.

She smiled. It was Clinton, the ancient maintenance man who’d been with the hotel for more than thirty years. He was on his back, his tool belt by his side, his ample belly inflating and deflating as he slept like a baby.

If it had been anyone else, Elena would have woken them up and given them a talking to, but Clinton was a hard worker, she was in a good mood, and he looked so damn peaceful down there she couldn’t bring herself to do it. So she left him there, closing the door gently behind her.

The Stanhope had four penthouse suites on the tenth floor, all of them with private terraces and views across the greenery of Hyde Park. They cost an average of £4,000 a night – pocket change to a man like Mr Al-Jahabi, who’d already been in the largest and most expensive of them for the past week.

Aside from greeting him on occasion when he arrived at the hotel with his retinue, Elena had never had to talk to Mr Al-Jahabi before, and she wasn’t looking forward to starting now. Steeling herself, she stopped outside his door, took a deep breath, and knocked.

For a few seconds there was no answer. She was just about to knock again when the door opened a few inches and a young woman, not much older than eighteen but already with the hardening look of someone who does a job they despise, poked her head out.

‘Oh,’ she said, looking Elena up and down with an expression of vague distaste, ‘I thought you were room service. We’ve ordered champagne.’

Swallowing her irritation, Elena introduced herself, giving the prostitute a cold look, and asked to speak to Mr Al-Jahabi.

‘I’ll just see if he’s available,’ the girl said, returning the cold look as she closed the door.

It was a good two minutes before it was opened again, this time revealing a portly Arab man in his fifties with a thick black moustache, wearing only a black linen gown. Knowing she couldn’t have this discussion in the hallway, even though she’d have preferred to, Elena apologized for the intrusion and told him she’d like a private word.

He smiled, as if this was the most natural thing in the world, and ushered her into the spacious foyer. The doors to the different rooms were all closed, but Elena could hear giggling coming from the master bedroom.

‘Take a seat, Miss …’ he said, peering at Elena’s nametag and pointing to a leather sofa in one corner. He stepped towards her. ‘Is it Serenko?’

‘Yes, it is,’ she answered, taking a step backwards. Even in her heels, he still had a good couple of inches on her in height. ‘And I’d prefer to stand, thanks. We’ve had a serious complaint from one of our staff.’

‘Really? And what did they complain about?’

‘Apparently, you exposed yourself and made suggestive comments. You’re a very valued customer, Mr Al-Jahabi, but the Stanhope can’t tolerate that kind of behaviour towards its staff.’ You dirty old bastard, she felt like adding, but didn’t. Elena could be remarkably self-controlled when she wanted to be.

Mr Al-Jahabi laughed, which was when Elena noticed that his eyes were a little unfocused, and that he was none too steady on his feet. It looked like the classic combination of alcohol and coke.

God, that was all she needed.

‘She says what, exactly? That I showed her my dick? Why would I want to do that?’

‘I’m not sure, Mr Al-Jahabi, but—’

‘I got two beautiful girls in there. I don’t need one of your maids.’ He paused, eyeing her slyly through pinprick pupils. ‘Still, if she looked like you, I might be tempted. How would you like to earn yourself some real money, Miss See-Renko?’ He reached into the pocket of the gown, produced a huge wad of cash, and leaned in close to her again.

Elena could smell the booze on his breath and it made her feel sick. She needed to get out of here, and fast. And when she did she’d get straight on to Siobhan, the general manager, who was away on a course, and tell her that she wanted permission to throw this man out of the hotel right away, however much his custom was valued.

‘I think you want to, don’t you?’ he leered, so close now that the material of his gown was brushing against her trouser suit. ‘Maybe party with us in there for a little bit, huh? Snort some powder. You’d like that, I think.’

He began peeling off fifty-pound notes from the wad, each one worth more than half a duty manager’s shift after tax. Nothing to a man like him. Elena could tell from the arrogant, drunken look on his face that he’d bought plenty of people in the past just by flashing a little bit of his wealth.

Instinctively, and without a moment’s thought, she drove her knee into his groin. Hard.

Mr Al-Jahabi’s eyes widened in total shock. Elena was shocked too. She’d never done anything like that before (aside from the time when she was nine and her older brother Kris had been trying to stuff a worm in her mouth), and for a long, surreal moment she watched as Mr Al-Jahabi crumpled to his knees, both hands on the affected area, a low groan coming out of his mouth. Then, coming to her senses, she turned and strode rapidly out of the suite, trying to come to terms with the fact that she’d just assaulted one of the Stanhope’s highest-spending guests.

She stopped in the corridor, trying to calm herself down. Even if she told Siobhan the truth about what had happened, she couldn’t see herself keeping her job. Al-Jahabi was rich. He had power. That was why he was able to get away with his behaviour. He’d demand revenge on her, and he’d get it. She’d never get a reference from the hotel, which would mean she wouldn’t be able to get a decent job in Australia. It was so damn unfair, on what should have been one of the happiest days of her life, and it made her want to weep, but she forced herself to calm down. As her grandmother used to say, tears alone have never solved a problem.

BOOK: Siege
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