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Darrell eyed the recently unearthed contents of his left nostril, before wiping his finger on the jacket draped over the empty swivel chair next to him. He glanced, more out of habit than interest, at the double bank of closed circuit TV monitors that filled one wall of the small control room. High definition images of exhibition halls, grand corridors and close-ups of glass display cabinets bathed his unwashed face in their ethereal night-time low light.
A loud buzzer sounded. Darrell grunted as he leaned over his prodigious stomach. It took a lot of meals to get a belly as big as his. Not many people had the willpower, but Darrell did. He flicked a switch on the console below the screens and an image of a burly, female security guard appeared. She was balancing a plate of biscuits on two pint-sized mugs. ‘Guess who?’ came an impatient voice from a speaker on the wall.
Lazily, Darrell swung his chair round and spoke into a microphone. ‘What’s the password?’
‘Stop mucking about and let me in before I spill your tea.’
‘I still need the password,’ insisted Darrell. He smirked before adding, ‘Otherwise how do I know it’s you, Sheila?’
‘I’m sorry! Who else is it bloody well likely to be?’ said Sheila, leering at the door-cam.
‘Who knows, unless you give me the password.’
Sheila sighed. ‘Chairman bloody Mao. Strap that on and go screw yourself with it!’
Darrell gave a smug grin, pressed a button, and the door to the museum’s security command centre – originally an old store cupboard – opened automatically.
‘You don’t deserve this,’ said Sheila. She plonked the plate of biscuits and one of the mugs onto an open logbook in front of Darrell. Tea sloshed over the pages, making the first entry of the evening. She snorted at his lack of thanks and sat down.
Through a mouthful of Hobnobs, Darrell began to lecture his subordinate on the importance of strict security. ‘You see that there,’ he said thickly, pointing at one of the monitors and spraying crumbs over his shirt. The screen showed a glass-fronted cabinet filled with gemstone-encrusted gold and silver eggs. ‘That ain’t your usual poncey art scene, that’s pure Fabergé craftsmanship that is.’ He took a slurp of tea. ‘It’s on loan from Paris and it’s worth a bleeding fortune.’ He tapped his chest, dislodging several of the biscuit crumbs. ‘And we’re its first line of defence…’
Sheila’s eyes rolled skyward as Darrell launched into one of his monologues. ‘…you have to have the eyes of Sherlock Holmes, and the brain of a criminal mastermind – like that Morrissey bloke – when you’re Chief of Security like me. Especially in an operation this big.’
‘You mean Moriarty…and Chief layabout more like,’ muttered Sheila loud enough for Darrell to make a mental note to speak to her about diplomacy in her upcoming appraisal.
Darrell squinted at one of the screens labelled ‘Egyptian Gallery’ as a female security guard strolled past the mummified remains of King Phutt the Second. ‘Is that the new girl?’ he asked. Sheila nodded. ‘Check her status will you,’ said Darrell, ‘I’m sure she shouldn’t be on route B?’
Sheila pulled a clipboard from a drawer and flipped paperwork until she found the schedule for the night shift. She tapped the page with her fingernail. ‘Nope, Harry called in sick, so she’s on his route tonight. Chloe she’s called. Friendly lass, but she does remind me of someone.’
Darrell used a joystick to zoom in on the guard’s face as she paused by the mummified skull of Queen Heffertiti – of the two, Chloe definitely had the monopoly on good looks.
‘Go on,’ said Sheila, ‘have a stab. Who do you think she looks like?’
Darrell shook his head. ‘Dunno.’
‘She’s got the same piercing eyes as your old boss, Mr Perriman.’
Darrell paled at the mention of his predecessor but said nothing.
‘I only met him briefly a year back, mind, when he interviewed me for this job,’ said Sheila sipping her tea. ‘But he seemed like a nice bloke. By the time I started proper though, he’d resigned. No one told me why. What happened?’
Darrell didn’t answer, but Sheila waited until the silence became awkward. He cracked and said hurriedly, ‘Some drunkards got in one night and drew moustaches on all the Renaissance sculptures.’
Sheila gave a brisk laugh. ‘Ah, I can see how that would be a problem. Did they catch them?’
‘No,’ Darrell shifted position in his chair. ‘The main doors were wide open and the only evidence was a few empty cans and bottles.’
‘Yeah, but what about the CCTV?’ said Sheila. ‘I bet they looked like an episode of You’ve Been Framed!’
Darrell lowered his gaze along with his voice, ‘The video tapes went missing that night.’
‘No wonder Perriman resigned. Where were you while all that was going on?’
Darrell stiffened, ‘I was off-duty. Out celebrating a friend’s birthday. We had nothing to do with it, alright!’
‘Okay, keep your wig on,’ Sheila muttered. She changed the subject to a safer topic. ‘How about I pop out when Tino’s Deli opens and pick up some breakfast? What do you fancy?’
Darrell visibly relaxed at the mention of food. ‘Put me down for an onion bagel with crispy back gammon, and a plain one with scrambled egg, and I’ll have a large latte with plenty of sugar.’ He paused before adding, ‘Better make that a skinny latte.’ Sheila raised an eyebrow. Darrell shrugged, ‘I might have bulked up a bit in the last year.’
Sheila spotted something unusual out of the corner of her eye and uttered an oath.
‘Hello, not another dodgy monitor,’ said Darrell. The image of the Fabergé collection had turned a hazy, almost ghost-like white. Sheila banged it with the palm of her hand but it remained foggy.
‘It’s probably a faulty camera,’ said Darrell, ‘Who’s nearest to check it out?’
‘That’s Harry’s route.’ Sheila grabbed a walkie-talkie from a recharge point on the wall and thumbed the ON button. ‘Oi, Chloe, this is control, we need you to check out a camera in the Fabergé Room pronto, over.’ Static hissed. She tried again. ‘Come on girl, pick-up.’ Still no reply.
Darrell’s chubby hands scrabbled at switches and dials as he frantically switched cameras and angles to view the various approaches to the Fabergé Room – it revealed nothing unusual. ‘At least none of the alarms have triggered,’ he said.
A piercing whoop, whoop resonated through the control room and several lights blinked red on the console. Darrell’s face was a picture.
‘Nary a day goes by without some fun, eh?’ shouted Sheila as she grabbed her jacket, pressed the door release and raced off. She didn’t wait for Darrell to follow.
‘I’ll coordinate from here,’ said Darrell lamely. He knew, with his weight, even getting out of his seat wasn’t trivial. Pursuit of villains was certainly out of the question. He turned down the volume on the migraine-inducing alarm and called the police to check they were on their way. Placing his own walkie-talkie on the console, all he could do now was wait…and eat some more biscuits.
It took exactly two minutes and four Hobnobs before Sheila’s breathless voice crackled over the radio waves saying, ‘You’re not…going to…believe this, Boss.’
Darrell snatched up his walkie-talkie. ‘Tell me what’s happening…over!’
‘Better…’ Sheila had a coughing fit before ending, ‘…I show you.’ There was a loud clunk before the walkie-talkie cut off. Then a flapping hand appeared in the white fog of the Fabergé Room monitor. Darrell strained to make out details as the room’s image gradually came back into focus.
Sheila stood in front of the Fabergé cabinet holding her walkie-talkie and a metal waste bin covered with her, now, smoking jacket. ‘It was a smoke bomb, Boss. We’ve had a break-in.’
Darrell’s response was barely articulate. ‘What…? How…? Where did…?’ Eventually he managed to splutter, ‘…well get after them…find them…do something!’
Sheila didn’t leap into action as he expected. Instead she moved to one side and pointed at the cabinet which was still filled with ornamental eggs, but which were all now within easy reach through a large circular hole cut in the glass. A business card, was propped up inside the centrepiece of the display – an ostrich-sized, hinged gold egg coated with iridescent diamonds.
Darrell’s heart pounded as he grabbed a joystick to control the camera’s zoom. He focussed in on the card and his Sherlock Holmes’ eyes flitted backwards and forwards between the card and the bejewelled egg. It took several seconds, even with his Morrissey-like brain, for the two to finally connect.
Fortunately, Darrell had been seated when he fainted which meant the paramedics could just wheel him outside into the fresh air rather than order a crane. The police examined the scene of the crime but didn’t seem overly concerned. Eventually the museum curator arrived and Sheila had the honour of relating the story behind the night’s events. When they examined the cabinet together, the curator reached through the hole in the glass and took out the business card. He read it out loud.
‘Perriman and Daughter – Security Consultants.’ Much to Sheila’s surprise he roared with laughter. After several seconds, he took a paisley handkerchief from his breast pocket to dab at his teary eyes. Waving it at Sheila he said, ‘I want four guards posted outside the room until the case can be repaired…’ Walking off, his last words were, …while I go settle a bet I had with a former colleague!’