I just know when a heist is going down. Call it instinct or sixth sense, I attribute it to forty-six years of walking these treasure-laden halls, scanning every face, watching for furtive glances or behaviour that’s not the norm. The young guards scoff at me. They merely watch their screens and run their software, placing all their trust in invisible beams and alarm systems. I know what they say: Roger is too old for this job; hasn’t moved with the times; a dead-weight. I pay them little heed. Instead I vigilantly keep watch over that which I have come to love, that which has become a part of me.
And when the exhibition of medieval religious relics arrives at the British Museum, I sense the imminent danger.
Not that I am assigned to guard such a prestigious exhibition, of course. I, who used to watch over the Rosetta stone and Egyptian riches, have now been relegated to a dusty side-room filled with Victorian costumes. Yet I watch as the objects—many on loan from the Vatican—are brought into the neighbouring hall to be catalogued and arranged. The Vatican has provided its own security men and I don’t particularly like the look of either of them. The younger one refuses to meet my gaze, and the older looks too much like Marlon Brando in “The Godfather”.
With every passing day, the sense that something is afoot grows stronger. I feel it in my bones.
A young British security officer, Steve, has also been assigned to the exhibition, and he is the first with whom I share my fears.
“I’m not happy with those two gangster-types, Steve. You keep a good eye on them, will you?”
“Bit of that anti-Italian war sentiment surfacing, Roger?”
“Nonsense. I have a sense that something is going down here. All these new, open displays just invite theft. In my day, objects were kept behind bullet-proof glass.”
“This allows the public a more intimate experience with the objects,” Steve recites. “Anyway, nobody could smuggle anything from the museum without setting off a dozen alarms.”
He is right. On leaving the museum, every person is scanned. What’s more, all the objects are tagged and alarms sound if one passes between the doors.
Yet I keep an eye on the Mafiosi, and on all the visitors who linger a little too long at the displays. My bones have never been wrong before.
So strong is my sense of impending threat that I speak to the section curator. When he laughs off my fears, I insist on making an appointment with the head of the museum.
Sir Alistair listens to my concerns with a patient smile, before he speaks.
“I appreciate your input, Roger. Rather charming that you still take such a personal interest in museum affairs. Yet I have no doubt that our security is as tip-top as always.”
“But Sir, these premonitions have never been wrong. In 1964 I…”
“Yes, I have read your long, outstanding record. However, in this instance I fear you are making much ado about nothing. Security has changed Roger, and requires a new breed of officers. Someone such as Steve, for instance. Now that young man inspires confidence.”
“In fact, you are seven years past retirement age, which is clearly against new policy. So I’m going to have to ask you to pack your things in the next few days. We’ll give you your full month’s pay, but there’s no need for you to come in.” He pats me on the shoulder. “Time to relax and enjoy the fruits of your labour. Right, old chap?”
As I walk back to my locker, the familiar museum buzz is drowned out by a strange, thudding whoosh in my ears. I wonder numbly if it could be the sound of a heart dissolving into a thousand fragments.
Was I wrong this time? I had felt so very, very sure.
With that sharp-eyed snoop Roger gone, the plan could move ahead. The cameras were re-programmed, beams disabled and a diversion created to cause the Italians to look away just long enough for a fake to replace the exhibition’s smallest, most valuable centrepiece—Mary’s Pendant.
Now only this one critical step remains.
Steve stands in the inner courtyard of the museum and glances furtively around before bringing out the homing pigeon. He slips the jewel into the small, zipped pouch around the bird’s neck and throws her—and her priceless cargo—into the air.
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