Continuing our series of short fiction set in, or influenced by London. This week, Kay Seeley picks up our current theme of Summertime and...
Summer in London: hot, steamy, and teaming with tourists. They’re everywhere, filling the streets, cafés, bars and restaurants, bringing their colourful vibrancy to the city.
I stand on the steps by Westminster Bridge watching the stream of bodies snaking endlessly over the river to the South Bank. They come in all shapes and sizes, old ladies in coats, young lads in shorts and giggling girls wearing hardly anything at all.
Every nation in the world is represented here. Tour guides hold their striped, furled umbrellas high as they stride purposefully forward like Moses leading the Israelites through the Red Sea. On rainy days the umbrellas are open and held high. The bridge becomes a pageant of colour with umbrellas vying for space on the crowded pavement. Today the sun sparkles on the water and gilds the windows of the buildings along the riverside.
The guides are followed by a raggle-taggle of weary sight-seers eager to cram in yet more history and an over-indulgence of culture. Some are anxious to get on while others would tarry to enjoy the view, thrilled at just being here. An abundance of cameras, smart phones and tablets are on show to record scenes viewed through lenses that reduce the city’s splendid opulence to bite size pieces, losing its magnificence in the process. Easy pickings.
I pick out the vulnerable ones, the elderly and frail, the young and naïve the unaware and unsuspecting in the hustle and bustle of London as she puts on her glamour, glitz and shine to woo the visitors.
Over the bridge I watch boats bobbing against the pier offering the chance to cruise a river as old as the dawn of time. Music drifts up from the steel band below, mingling with the aroma of candy floss and fried onions. The atmosphere is one of lively noise and confusion. Easy pickings.
A few of us are out by the river today. I don’t work alone. I’m the spotter. It’s my job to identify the possible victims. I’m good at my job. I work out my best choices for easy pickings: pick-pocketing, snatch and grab, the please help me con. It’s amazing how many old ladies and gentlemen will get out their purses to help an innocent-looking young person if approached. No one is safe. All should be on their guard. Few are.
I spot an old lady, oblivious to her surroundings, handbag hooked loosely over her arm as she cranes her neck to take a photo of Big Ben. How difficult would it be to snatch that bag? How worthwhile? Hmm. The elderly can be quite tenacious. They are not easily overcome.
Along the South Bank people dawdle, stopping and staring at the street artists, statues, and entertainments. Easier pickings.
A young girl walks down the steps on the south side of the bridge. She’s completely engrossed in a technological world of her own, focussed only on the screen of her phone – probably taking pictures no one will ever see. She’s wearing red hot pants, a sleeveless crop top and flip-flops – no good for running after an assailant. Her long skinny legs are brown from the sun and her blonde hair is tied back. Her headphones isolate her from the world around her. Does she even know where she is? Does she even care? She’s brought her world with her and it’s not allowing her to become part of ours. Will it be her today?
The stream of bodies moving along the South Bank slows as they approach the London Eye. Crowds have gathered at the entrance to the attraction, everyone bent on their own progress.
This, I know from experience, is the perfect place. Sure enough I see him, a lad on a skateboard weaving his way through the crowds, just another youngster out enjoying the sun? Within seconds he runs into the oblivious girl, knocking her off balance and grabbing her phone. Then he’s away, skating through the crowds before she even has time to realise what has happened to her. It’s quick, no one is ever quite prepared for the speed of it. She’s stunned and paralysed with shock.
I phone my contacts, we work as a team. We’ve been together for years now – very successfully. The lad is racing away, a grin on his face. The grin disappears as he sails straight into the arms of my waiting colleagues, PC Nick Brown and PC Ernest White. I imagine the smiles on their faces as they give the time-honoured greeting, “You’re nicked son.”
He’ll be in court in the morning. No defence. I’ve caught it all on camera. London will be a tiny bit safer today. No easy pickings while we’re around.
I scan the crowd crossing the bridge. Who’s next I wonder?
We’re still looking for London short fiction stories based on the theme ‘Summertime‘. Please continue to send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Entries must be no more than 1,000 words, and must be set in London, or strongly inspired by the city. Full details here.
Previously in this series
- The Patient Banker: Tom Dean has a visitor call in at a houseboat.
- An Afternoon Some Time Ago: Nathan Good takes a nostalgic ride on the London Eye.
- Blackout on Fen Street: Seth Insua wishes away the city.
- The Man From BEER: Which bits of London would you delete? By David Ritchie.
- London Falls: Liz Hedgecock unleashes a digital wipeout on the city.
- They Walked: Adam MacLean ponders what would happen if London’s building just got up and left.
- The Wallbuilder: A great wall was built around London, not everyone was happy, by Jonathon Dean.
- Tastes Like Chicken: Glen Delaney retreats inside London’s oldest fortress.
- The Conqueror: Rebecca Sams filches a legendary London object.
- The Busker Ascends: Darren Lee brings plague to Leicester Square.
- Amelie: Narges Rashidi considers the interactions of three people on a District Line tube.
- Shelter Drawings: Stuart Snelson’s tale of a mysterious Circle Line artist.
- Tracks and Albums: Richard Lakin attracts the attentions of the British Transport Police.
- Seeing Red: Anthony Fitzgerald on the woes of a cab driver.
- Instant Karma on the 263 to North Finchley: one seat left on the bus. Next to you. Raving drunk gets on. By Ronnie Capaldi.
- The Sender of Second Chances: Anthea Morrison records a chance encounter on a bus.
- Two Four Eight: Lance V Ramsay envisions an Orwellian dystopia in the lingo of future London.
- Old Nichol: Jill Fricker evokes the woes of the old East End.
- Clissar: Grazia Brunello dips into the future of north London, through a glass darkly.
- Harvest Festival: A spooky Halloween tale in the London suburbs by Helen Craig.
- Ordinary Days in London: Madelaine Hills on a Docklands disturbance.
- Bishopsgate: Oliver Zarandi visits the site of a bomb.
- The Perfect Gift: A Christmas fairy tale in which London’s statues come to life, by Katherine Wheston.
- The City Inside: Tom Butler has some curious metropolitan anatomy.
- Jazz Code and the Tube: The ambivalence of dating, by Jenny Mackenzie.
- A Free Man: Melanie White’s flash fiction piece considers a recently single guy at a bachelor party.
- Clean Living London: Ursula Dewey rolls her sleeves up for some housework.
- Swipe Right: Does Tinder have the answers? By Heidi Scherz
- The Writer and the Dancer: Close encounter at a flat party by Vincent Wood.
- St Peter’s Gate, Knightsbridge: A nocturnal romance at closing time, by Theo Klay
- First: A romance begins inside a London gay club. By Lance Middleton.
- Natural Disasters: Can you find love at the supermarket checkout, when your customer’s buying porn? Yoel Noorali enquires.
- NO! SUSHI: A relationship breaks down during a Japanese leaving party, by Clare Kane.
- Compatibility: Stephen Lynch conjures the awkwardness of flat hunting.
- An Extract From the Diary of Kay Richardson, Actor: The surreal tribulations of a washed-up London thesp, by Tom Mitchell.
- The Further Adventures of Kay Richardson, Actor: More from the feckless thesp, by Tom Mitchell.
- The Further Adventures of Kay Richardson, Actor (Part 2): Our debauched hero tussles with mannequins.
- You Were Not In When We Called: A Christmas tale from Megan Toogood.
- The Do: Alan Fisher gets party phobia.