Excerpt from The Vault by Peter Lovesey, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Vault

By Peter Lovesey

The Vault
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2000,
    304 pages.
    Paperback: Oct 2001,
    336 pages.

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Chapter One

Some weird objects are handed in at Bath Police Station.

WPC Enid Kelly, on des duty this afternoon, sneaked a look at the Asian man who had brought in a pizza box. She was sure of one thing: it didn't contain pizza. She just hoped it wasn't a snake. She had a dread of snakes.

"How can I help you, sir?"

the man had the black tie and white shirt of a security guard. He lifted the box up to the protective glass partition. No airholes. Officers on duty learn to watch out for any container with holes punched in the top. But there was a bulge. Something bulkier than a pizza had been stuffed inside. Bulkier than two pizzas. "This I am finding at Roman Baths."

"What is it?"

The man glanced at the other people in the waiting area as if they might not wish to hear. Leaning closer to the glass, he said, "Can I pass through?"

"Just a moment."

Enid Kelly turned for support to the sergeant filling in a form at the desk behind her. He came to the glass.

"What have you got here, sir?"

"Some person's hand, I am thinking."

"A hand?"

"A hand I said."

"It was in this box?"

"No, no, no. My lunch was in the box. Tomato and mushroom pizza. This was best thing I could find to carry hand in."

"Let's see." The sergeant unfastened the security panel and the box was passed through. It felt too heavy to be a hand. But how can you tell how much a hand weighs on its own?"

He opened one end. "It looks more like a chunk of concrete to me." He let it slide out onto the desk.

"Ugh!" said Enid Kelly, beside him.

"Get a grip."

The hand was skeletal, enclosed in a thin casing of concrete or cement that had partially collapsed. Some of the small bones had broken off and were lying loose. Shreds of what looked like dry skin tissue were attached. It could have passed for a damaged piece of sculpture.

"Where exactly did you find it, sir?"

"In vault. I am stepping on floor and my foot sinks through."

WPC Kelly winced again.

"Down in the Roman Baths, you said?"

"This was not exhibition area, sir. This was vault."

"So you said. What do you mean by vault? A cellar?"

"Cellar—what is that? Excuse my poor English. I am doing security check this morning. My first week in job. I have strict orders from head man, Mr Peacock. 'You visit all parts of building. All parts. Go through entire building every day.'"

The sergeant picked up the thing and felt its weight again. "So is it Roman?"

"I can't tell you, sir."

The sergeant didn't commit himself either, except to suggest nobody else went down into the vault until the matter had been investigated.

*******

The bony hand, resting on its pizza box, was deposited on Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond's desk.

"What's this—a finger buffet?"

"The thing is, sir, we don't know if it's a matter for us," the sergeant explained. "It was found at the Roman Baths."

"Give it to the museum."

"It wasn't in the Roman bit. This vault is part of a later building, as I understand it."

"Medieval?"

"When's medieval?"

"Later than Roman," said Diamond in a tone suggesting he could have said more, but needed to press on. "Where exactly is the vault?"

"On the Abbey side, below street level."

"But what street?"

"Not a street, in point of fact," the sergeant said. "That square in front of the Abbey."

"The Abbey Churchyard?"

"Yes."

Diamond spread his hands as if no more needed to be said.

The sergeant frowned.

Plainly something did need to be said. "If you're looking for old bones, where do you go?"

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Copyright © 1999 by Peter Lovesey. All rights reserved.

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