...the youths traversed Green Park diagonally, bypassed Buckingham Palace and found themselves in the district of Victoria. The tower of Westminster Cathedral dominated the area, and presently they ambled past the religious edifice and turned left into a road called Carlisle Place. And here, in this unassuming road, did their day's adventure truly begin.
Carlisle Place: a quiet road of terraced, three-storey Georgian-style houses, most of which had been converted into flats or offices. The youths had strolled half the length of the road when Jason broke from the group and stepped toward the front of the nearest building, briefly inspecting a brass plaque screwed to the facade.
"What's up?" Lea asked when the curious one returned to the group.
"Nothing much," Jason sighed as the strolling resumed, "Just wondered if it was a flat or an office." An inquisitive expression crossed his face. "How much profit do you reckon you could make if you bought one of these gaffs, converted it into flats, and sold them separately?"
"It's an expensive area," Mark conceded.
Jason nodded. "I reckon you could make a fortune."
"Better stop talking about money," Mark smirked, "You know how much it upsets Lea."
"Up yours," snorted Lea, whose perpetual lack of funds was something of a standing joke. Jason idly retrieved his black marker pen from his pocket and, as he walked, ran it across the equally black mews railings they were passing.
"The ink isn't showing up, it's black on black," Lea pointed out.
"Doesn't matter, "Jason sniffed, "The pen's making a lovely 'drrrr' sound."
Mark shook his head in mock sadness. "Little things please little minds."
"Little minds, big meat."
Lea gazed at him in affected innocence. "Is that true?"
They had, by now, traversed approximately three-quarters of the length of Carlisle Place and, at this point, Mark happened to glance over his shoulder. What he saw caused him a high degree of alarm. A big, hirsute policeman was about fifty metres to their rear, striding at a disturbingly fast pace, his glaring eyes bulging from a face that was virtually all beard.
"Plod's behind us," Mark told his companions, "Speed up a bit."
Jason and Lea knew better than to follow his rearward glance, knowing that to do so would advertise a collective guilt complex. Suppressing this instinct, they increased their pace, reached the end of the road and turned left at the T-junction. The policeman fell out of sight as the end-terrace of Carlisle Place interrupted their view. Mark gestured for his companions to stop, then cautiously peeked back around the corner.
The policeman was now haring along Carlisle Place in their wake. For a second Mark stood frozen, transfixed by the ludicrous vision of the policeman's helmet bobbing frantically as he ran. Then he found his voice.
"He's running! Leg it!"
Nobody stopped to wonder why they should flee; it just seemed to be the most natural course of action to employ. They sprinted across the junction and into a diverging street, their trainers slapping the pavement in a rapid staccato rythym. They were now in the Pimlico area, unfamiliar terrain for all three, but the fact that they were running blindly did nothing to check their pace. The group priority was to elude the officer. Once that task had been accomplished, they could take the time to figure where the hell their flight had carried them. As they neared the end of this second road, Mark once again looked back to verify the progress of their pursuer. He saw the policeman at the bottom of the road, having lost ground, but still running and now barking into his radio.
"He's calling reinforcements!" Mark yelled as they reached the end of the road, "Turn right! Turn right!"
They turned hard to starboard and there, stretched out in front of them in all its gargantuan glory, was Vauxhall Bridge Road - a monstrous urban highway crammd with buses, taxis and a plethora of assorted civil traffic. On the other side of this road stood the closest that Pimlico could boast for an inner-city sprawl: the Lillington Gardens Estate. The youths weaved their reckless way across the potentially lethal road and immersed themselves in the concrete sea of the Estate.
Hearts slapping alarmingly in their chests, senses of direction thoroughly disorientated, they forced themselves to slow down and walk.Their converstaion was rent with stress.
"Where are we?" Jason pleaded.
"Dunno," Mark told him, offering no comfort.
"Where are we going?" came Lea's interrogative.
Mark shrugged helplessly. "Dunno that either."
"In that case," Jason spat with mounting fear, "What are we gonna do now?"
Mark simply shot him a look of baffled indecision, and Jason knew that this would be the only answer forthcoming. They were fugitives in an alien area, and possessed no knowldge of the geography or nature of that area. From this moment forward, luck would be the only relevant factor.
They broke out of the concrete labyrinth and faltered on the kerb of a thin service road that traversed the centre of the Lillington Gardens Estate. Looking left, they saw that the service road flowed into Vauxhall Bridge Road in much the same way as a ditch might flow into an estuary. Looking right, they saw a considerably quieter byway called Tachbrook Street. Had they known the topography of Pimlico, they would have also known that their only chance of escaping detection would be to run to ground in the Estate and wait for the helpful cloak of night. Neither did their knowledge extend to the fact that a plain-clothed copper on Vauxhall Bridge Road had seen them dive into the Estate and, alerted by the message panted across the airwaves by the hirsute pursuer, had immediately raised the alarm.
Mark, Jason and Lea stepped into the open and onto Tachbrook Street, where they turned south. Their ignorance continued unabated, shieding them from panic. A walk of a hundred metres would take them to Pimlico Underground Station and consequent freedom, but they were not aware of this fact. They were equally ignorant of the fact that the Metropolitan Police, foreseeing this particular escape route, were circling the Estate like Indians round a wagon train. Relying purely on luck, that most capricious of fortunes, they began to walk.
They covered about ten feet.
An unmarked, scarlet police car drew to the kerb alongside them. "Hold it, lads," the driver ordered as he bounded energetically from his seat and flashed his ID. The faces of the young men dropped. So did Lea's marker pen, clattering to the pavement next to Mark. Hardly a bat of an eyelid later, the law enforcement buzzards swooped upon their cowering teenage prey.
They homed in from every feasible direction. Marked and unmarked police cars, accompanied by two vans, closed on the point of apprehension in Tachbrook Street, Pimlico. Fifteen constables, four sergeants and an inspector were on the scene. Tachbrook had transmogrified from a peaceful road into the scene of a Major Incident. The three halted young men were, to use a mild term, completely overwhelmed.
The big, hairy officer who had begun the pursuit stormed into the chaos, grabbed hold of Jason, bundled him into a nearby doorway and started to snarl his ire. Lea was hurriedly packed into the back of a van for interrogation and a young, smooth-faced constable accused mark of possessing the discarded marker pen.
"I'm afraid that pen's not mine," Mark refuted, meekly yet truthfully.
"You were seen to drop it," the constable elaborated in a tone that suggested Mark had better start telling the truth. Mark, realising the futility of arguing with somebody who was absolutely convinced of his own infallibility, pulled his own pen from his pocket. "That pen's not mine," he insisted quietly, "This pen is mine."
The policeman frowned and promptly relieved Mark of the offending article. The writing accoutrements of Lea and Jason were likewise confiscated.
An inquisitive crowd gathered, and some of the police were employed to keep them at bay. Jason, still being bawled out by the yeti, took his mind briefly from his predicament by noticing that the crowd seemed to be comprised mostly of young blacks from the Lillington Gardens Estate. he mused upon how novel this situation must be for inner-city London - a crowd of blacks gathering to watch three whites being arrested in a dramatic case of Metropolitan Police overkill.
Still stunned by the scale of the swoop, the trio were carefully kept separated from one another and were compelled to explain their motives for peeking in windows. Were they burglars? Were they vandals? The accusations were strenuously denied, and eventually the youths were brought together, pushed into one of the vans and driven away from the scene.
They sat quietly in the van, under the watchful eye of a copper with a bored expression. Lea clasped his hands together in his lap, stared blankly at the floor of the van and attempted to predict the next development in this bizarre event. He and his friends had committed no crime - at least, no crime that could be proven - so no repercussions should be forthcoming from that quarter. On the other hand, they had run from that first policeman, so a natural assumption of guilt would have been drawn, and that assumption had led to a considerable utilisation of resources and manpower on the part of the Met. They were bound to feel a little aggrieved about that. Lea confronted himself with the possibility that the three of them were going to be driven to a quiet alley and professionally beaten up. No great lover of pain, he felt what little remained of his spirit enervate to a distinct low. Half a minute of a good, sound walloping, and he knew that he would even admit to being on the grassy knoll.
Jason gazed at the roof, too deep in self-contemplation to consider any forthcoming surprises. For once, his famous habit of mouthing off to coppers had eluded him. He could only ascribe this uncharacteristic muteness to the sudden and shocking way in which events had soured. His natural effrontery had been crushed into dormancy. He had been so sure, upon stepping out on Tachbrook Street, that they had once again slipped from the clutches of their natural adversaries. Christ, had that confidence been thoroughly disproved.
While Lea cogitated upon the future and Jason reflected upon the past, Mark pondered the present. Seated by the back doors of the van, he watched external activity rush by. Twilight had descended, and lights blinked into existence across the mighty city. The gaudy neon glow of the Apollo Victoria theatre, triumphantly proclaiming the presence within of Starlight Express, moved into his perspective. His eyebrows raised in confusion. Surely they had passed that same theatre a minute ago? He switched his attention to the interior of the vehicle. Lea and Jason remained silent, immersed in their musings, and the policeman seemed indifferent to his surroundings. Mark returned his attention to the world outside the van, and began to scrutinise passing landmarks.
After less than a minute the large, illuminated herald of Andrew Lloyd Webber's rollerskating musical once again crossed the vista. Mark felt his facial muscles relax as his thoughts began to coalesce. The van was driving in circles, and he understood why. The police were waiting. They were waiting for confirmation of the three youths' names and addresses, after which they would certainly be released.
Sure enough, instructions were presently relayed over the radio and the van drew to a stop opposite Victoria Station. The rear doors were opened ffrom the outside, and there stood the tall and impassive Inspector.
"I don't know if you were telling the truth or if you were just plain lucky," the Inspector snapped, "but I want you out of London now. I don't want to see you again. Get yourselves back to Basildon."
His feelings were reciprocated, and the young men nodded in enthusiastic agreement as they gratefully alighted from the van. Foregoing a final, backward glance at their brief and mobile prison, they navigated the width of the road and entered the bustling yet comforting ambience of Victoria Station.
"I don't particularly want to see him again, either," commented Jason as they cut a path to the turnstiles.
"And the rest of his advice?" Mark mentioned, pulling his train ticket from a pocket, "Fancy getting out of London?"
"No chance," Lea snorted, checking his watch, "Kevin'll be finishing at the store soon. Let's get ourselves to Oxford Street.'