Picture by 5imon: London Stone plus bikes
Randolph draws the curtain, then turns the projector on. “Here,” he says, showing them a picture, “we have Cannon Street.” He gives them a moment to absorb this. “And here,” he adds, “we have the London Stone.” He clicks to the next image, and the angle on the street has shifted; there’s cars and bicycles, but on the far side, just visible between vehicles, there’s also a small, glowing cage.
Naomi leans forward. “What is it?”
“Nobody’s quite sure.” He clicks his mouse, and the camera moves closer again. The cage is clear now, bright under a row of footwear advertisements. There’s glass or plastic behind the metal bars; and behind even that, a smooth grey rock. It’s hard to make out the scale.
Trevor pushes up from his half-asleep sprawl on the sofa. “Why should I be interested in this stone if nobody knows what it is?”
Randolph frowns, then clicks again, refusing to be rushed: another image, closer still. “The Romans,” he says, “saw the Stone as the centre of the city. They measured local distances from where it stood. For thousands of years it’s been at London’s heart. Some people say it is London’s heart, the thing that keeps everything else going strong. Rebels flocked to it as a symbol of sovereignty; bombs fell and it survived.”
He clicks his mouse again, and the picture is even closer this time, almost abstract in its reduction to shapes and shades: a black bar on either side of the frame, and grey in the middle.
“It’s been said,” Randolph says, turning to face them, “that as long as the stone stands, London will flourish.”
“And?” Naomi’s still waiting to see where this goes.
“And it’s being moved. Tomorrow. Its current home is due to be demolished. At three o’clock in the afternoon, that’s just over twenty-four hours from now, it will be collected from Cannon Street. From there it will be taken directly to the Museum of London. Once it’s in the museum, it will be placed in a laser-protected room whose backup security system includes both pressure pads and CCTV. It will be entirely inaccessible. But while it’s in transit…”, and he flicks through to another picture, even closer, nothing but grey and tiny pockmarks, “that’s our chance.”
He lets go of the mouse and turns to face the gang. Naomi frowns. “How much is it worth?”
“In a traditional sense? Hardly anything.”
Randolph tilts his head to one side. “Could do,” he says. “I was thinking of something a little more… ambitious.”
“I’m not,” Trevor says, “helping you bring about the fall of London.”
“Of course not. That’s not what I want. The fall of London would be bad for business; in times of social disorder, most burglaries are carried out by unskilled looters, and the work of the superthief heist gang is undervalued.”
Randolph turns off the projector, and walks over to the window. “It seems to me,” he says, “that Cannon Street and the City have been at London’s centre for a very long time. They get the lucrative developments, the high-paid jobs, an underground station around every corner, tailored suits for all. Isn’t it time,” and he pulls the curtains open, “that Stoke Newington took its turn?” And he gestures out at the street he loves so much, the stores selling phonecards and brightly-coloured plastic buckets, the cafes, the pound shops, the narrow buildings, the beautiful crooked chimney pots. What might it become with the help of the London Stone?
26 hours notice; it’s touch and go whether they can get ready in time. None of them like driving in central London traffic, so they can’t just steal the whole truck; they have to do it the old-fashioned way. Social engineering, ropes, distractions, sirens, accomplices around the corner dressed as police officers. Trevor works through the night to make Cannon Street ghillie suits: grey stone textures, chewing gum pressed into place at random intervals to break up the silhouette.
His hands are shaking in the morning, and Naomi tells him to get some rest, but he pours himself another cup of coffee instead. “I’ll be fine,” he says. “It’ll be fine.”
As always, it’s not clear whether he means it; but he’s right. It is fine. Not just any old fine, but astoundingly, triumphantly fine, smoother than anything they’ve pulled in months; everything fitting exactly into place. It feels like it’s meant to be. They pant and laugh and gasp for breath as they run full-pelt round the final corner, pushing the shopping trolley before them with the tarp-covered stone strapped safely in place…
…and then they swerve, too late, to avoid sudden traffic cones. The trolley wheels out of Randolph’s grasp and spins across the footpath.
“Oh dear, that was clumsy,” says a voice from behind.
Randolph turns quickly. “Fletcher,” he says.
“That the stone you’ve got there?” Fletcher’s leaning against a wall, eyebrows raised.
“Why don’t you run back to South London, Fletcher? Can’t find a cab to take you?” Randolph says, but when he turns around again Flavia’s there too, hand out to catch the trolley as it rolls to a stop.
“That was a very elegant operation, Randolph,” Flavia says. “We couldn’t have done it half so well ourselves. But the Heart of London was never meant to reside in Stoke Newington.”
Randolph, steps forward; Naomi and Trevor fall in behind him. “I’m pretty sure you’re wrong about that,” he says.
Flavia’s smile grows wider. “We thought you might say that,” she says, “so we prepared.” There’s a click, and a whirr, from above. Randolph looks up; and the steering committee of the Battersea Society rappels down from the rooftops.