Apartment 16

PROLOGUE

When he heard the noise Seth stopped and stared, as if trying to see through the front door of apartment sixteen, the teak veneer aglow with a golden sheen. Right after descending the stairs from the ninth floor and crossing the landing the sounds began. Same as the last three nights, on his 2 a.m. patrol of the building.

Snapping out of his torpor, he flinched and took a quick step away from the door. Looming up the opposite wall, the shadow of his lanky body stretched out its arms as if grasping at a support. The sight of it made him start. ‘Fuck.’

He’d never liked this part of Barrington House, but couldn’t say why with any certainty. Maybe it was just too dark. Perhaps the lights were not set right. The head porter said there was nothing wrong with them, but they often cast shapes down the stairs Seth was walking up. It was as if a person descending was being preceded by their shadow; the impression of spiky limbs flickering ahead of them before they appeared around a bend in the staircase, sometimes even convinced Seth he’d also heard the swish of cloth and the pumpf, pumpf, pumpf of determined feet approaching. Only no one ever appeared, and there was never anyone up there when he turned a corner.

But the noise in apartment sixteen was far more alarming than any shadow.

Because during the early hours of the morning in this exclusive niche of London there is little to compete with the silence of night. Outside Barrington House the warren of streets behind the Knightsbridge Road are inclined to remain peaceful. Occasionally, out front, a car will drive around Lowndes Square. Or inside, the nightwatchman becomes aware of the electric lights in the communal areas, humming like insects with their black faces pressed against the recalcitrance of glass. But from the hours of one until five the residents sleep. Indoors, there is nothing but ambient sound.

And number sixteen was unoccupied. The head porter once told him it had been empty for over fifty years. But for the fourth consecutive night Seth’s attention had been drawn to it. Because of the bumping behind the door, against the door. Something he’d previously dismissed as a random noise in an old building. One that had stood for a hundred years. Something loose in a draught maybe. Something like that. But tonight it was insistant. It was louder than ever before. It was . . . determined. Had been stepped up a notch. Seemed directed at him and timed to coincide with his usually oblivious passage to the next set of stairs, during the hour when your body temperature drops and when most people die. An hour when he, the nightwatchman, was paid to patrol nine storeys of stairwell and the ancient landings on each floor. And it had never before escalated into a sudden eruption of noise like this.

A clattering of furniture across a marble floor, as if a chair or small table in the reception hall of the flat had been knocked aside. Perhaps toppling over, and even breaking. Not something that should be heard at any hour in a place as respectable as Barrington House.

Nervous, he continued to watch the door, as if anticipating its opening. His stare fixed on the brass number 16, polished so brightly it looked like white gold. He dared not even blink, in case it swung away from his eyes and revealed the source of the commotion. A sight he might not be able to bear. He wondered if his legs possessed the strength to carry him