Title: Royal Flush
Characters/Pairing(s): Alex, walk-ons by others
Summary: Alex goes on a school trip to the Tower of London – and ends up stealing the Crown Jewels.
Word Count: ~4,000
Author's Notes: Thanks to my beta-reader for his patience. I hope you enjoy this, scorpia_710. I've moved one 'real-life' event by a few years but I think everything else is compatible with canon.
Disclaimer: All Alex Rider characters herein are the property of Anthony Horowitz and the Penguin Group. No copyright infringement is intended.
The last thing Alex Rider expected to see, as he strolled towards the toilets behind Waterloo Block at the Tower of London, was a soldier smoking a cigarette. Or rather, a man in soldier's uniform smoking a cigarette. From the way his shoulders slouched and the lack of polish on his black boots it was pretty clear the man had never been a soldier in his life.
Alex pulled his iPhone from his jeans pocket and began to fiddle with it, casting covert looks at the man as he walked towards the Gents. There was a door half open behind the imposter and a second man, also in uniform, leaning against it looking idly around. The sound of pop music spilled out into the yard.
Alex headed into the nearest cubicle and locked the door behind him. It made sense that there would be soldiers on site, he reasoned; moreover, their location made it likely that it opened onto a room very close to where the Crown Jewels were on display. Having armed response on hand would be a logical precaution. It was equally clear that the two men he had just seen weren't the real thing. So who were they and what were they doing?
However he looked at it Alex could come up with only one answer. They were planning to steal the Crown Jewels.
It wouldn't be the first time someone had tried. Alex's class had studied Thomas Blood's unsuccessful attempt as part of their History syllabus; in fact it was the reason for the school trip to the Tower that day. If it ever happened again, the story went, the ravens would give the alarm. But Alex didn't think an oversized blackbird would be any match for armed intruders and no one seemed to have spotted what was happening. In fact, the only person who seemed to have any idea what was going on was Alex. He needed help – and quickly.
He perched on the toilet and dialled the number for MI6. No signal. Alex cursed under his breath. There must be a jammer nearby. He was on his own.
He shoved his hands into his pockets, thinking furiously. If the fake soldiers had got as far as the guardroom, then the real guards must already have been compromised. That meant the raid was going to happen very soon indeed. The alarm would be triggered and the whole site would be locked down. That wouldn't bother the raiders; they would have an escape route already planned. But what if the lockdown happened before the raiders were ready? Alex's heart pounded in his chest. There was only one possible answer. He was going to have to steal the Crown Jewels himself.
At just before ten in the morning, the Tower was largely deserted. A few tourists were meandering around near the coffee kiosks and admiring the ravens but the huge queues Alex had feared were non-existent. He hurried up the hill towards Waterloo Block and the jewel exhibition.
Inside, he found himself alone. The air inside the stone chamber was cool after the early April sunshine. A tape snaked back and forth across the chamber, marking out a path for queuing tourists and leading them past a video of some Royal Wedding or other to entertain them as they waited. Diana, Sarah or Sophie? Alex had no idea. He had a feeling Jack Starbright would have known. He lifted the tapes and ducked though.
The next chamber was more interesting. Swords hung vertically in slender glass cases along the stone walls. Despite the urgency, Alex paused to take in the descriptions. The Sword of Temporal Justice. The Sword of Spiritual Justice. The Sword of Mercy. He gave the display cases an assessing look and then decided against it. A sword would be useful – two or three even more so – but he wasn't sure how many more rooms there were before he got to the jewel chamber. He didn't want to set off the alarm early.
The floor of the next room was a dark stone. Paintings of monarchs, wearing crowns and clutching orbs, adorned the walls. In their ermine robes they looked uncomfortably hot. Alex was suddenly glad he wasn't a king.
The next room was the one he was seeking.
A long glass case ran along the centre of the room with a moving walkway on either side. Gems glittered in the bright overhead lighting; even from the doorway Alex could see sceptres, orbs, brooches and a crown or three nestling on velvet mounts. He stopped, deliberately gazing around as if in wonder. Behind a rail to his right a plump man in beefeater uniform sat on a wooden chair supervising the non-existent tourists. He caught Alex's eye and glanced involuntarily towards the ceiling, then gave Alex a stern look. Anyone else would have missed the glance but it told Alex everything he needed to know.
He's in on it. That was a nuisance; Alex had hoped for a few seconds to make his escape before the fake soldiers arrived. The beefeater had given him one useful piece of information, though: Alex let his eyes stray upwards in the direction of the beefeater's gaze. An air vent, or so it seemed: but Alex' quick eyes caught a movement behind it. Surveillance point. Twelve feet above the ground, which meant they were up a flight of stairs. Maybe Alex had got his few seconds back, after all.
A little reconnaissance was in order, he decided. Alex stepped onto the first walkway and let it carry him along while his eyes scanned the room. No windows – well, that was to be expected. The only exits were the one behind him and a second one at the far end of the chamber. Alex changed his position slightly on the walkway. Now the doorway ahead was in his field of view as well as the sparkling jewels in their display cases.
The doorway was imposing, but narrow for its height. There seemed to be no door, but grooves were visible in either side of the doorjamb: steel security doors, Alex guessed, but how were they activated? If he'd designed the system the doors would close the instant a glass case shattered, but this was England, with a huge funding crisis and one old beefeater on duty, who probably had to press a switch. Alex was beginning to understand why he lived in the only country in the world which had already had its Crown Jewels stolen.
He had reached the end of the first walkway. Climbing off, Alex walked up to the doorway and peered out. A small ante-chamber, with a studded oak door open to the outside and a 'No Entry' sign beside it. Honestly! He turned back and climbed onto the second walkway, examining the jewels in the other side of the display case, as well as the doorway by which he had entered. It seemed identical to its partner. Alex knew that there was no way out the way he had come. He'd be captured long before he got past the Royal wedding videos – at which point, he suspected, capture might even be a relief.
Once again he came to the end of the walkway. He stepped off. He had all the information he was going to get. It was now or never.
'These are awesome!' Alex smiled brightly at the beefeater and stepped back onto the first walkway. 'Can I take pictures?'
'No pictures.' The beefeater didn't move from his position.
Alex shrugged. 'Never mind. I'll get a postcard.' He bent his head, staring at the jewels. His whole body tensed. On the first pass he had identified the items he was after – the Crown and the Orb. He'd seen them enough times in textbooks to identify them, even if they hadn't been clearly labelled in seven languages. And there was one other object that might come in useful…
'I'll just get a picture of this.' Alex fished out his camera phone. 'One won't make a difference.'
It worked. The beefeater gave a grunt of fury and started towards him – and away from the buttons on the control panel. Alex balled his hand into a fist and smashed it into the reinforced glass of the display cabinet at the precise position where he knew it would be most fragile - the corner. The glass shattered. Alex swept the shards clear and dragged out the Sceptre with the Dove.
'Why, you – you lout!' For a split second the beefeater hesitated, torn between sounding the alarm and going for Alex. It was a break Alex hadn't expected but he seized it. Bringing the sceptre down hard he broke the next cabinet open and pocketed the Orb. Behind him, he heard the low persistent whine of a siren.
Time to leave. Alex grabbed the Crown and stuffed it onto his head. He'd need both hands free if he was to get out in one piece. From behind him came the sound of running feet.
Diamonds glittered among the shards of glass. Might as well. Alex scooped up a handful and rammed them into his pocket. Turning, he bolted along the walkway to the doorway and freedom.
'Not so fast!' Two soldiers rushed in, the great steel doors moving inwards behind them. Seeing Alex, they stopped and stared. 'It's just a kid,' one muttered.
'Less of the kid, if you don't mind.' Alex hurtled towards them. Sticking out the Sceptre with the Dove, he smashed the right-hand soldier across the shins. The man crumpled, howling. Alex dived past his companion towards the doorway. Too slow! The steel doors were almost closed. He wasn't going to make it.
Alex grabbed the Sceptre with the Dove and jammed it between the doors. The mechanism gave a high-pitched wail. Alex turned sideways and slipped though the gap. The second soldier charged after him. There was a ghastly crunch and the Sceptre shattered as the doors slammed shut. The last thing Alex saw was the look of utter horror on the soldier's face.
He rounded the corner at speed, racing back towards the safety of the toilets by Brick Tower, one hand holding the Crown on his head.. Luck was with him; he encountered no one on the journey. Slamming the cubicle door shut, he leaned against it and breathed deeply.
He would need a disguise if he was to avoid capture. That was probably all right: he had packed for a spring day in London and his rucksack contained an extra jumper and a raincoat as well as a pair of sunglasses. He balanced the crown on the lavatory cistern and emptied his rucksack out onto the lid of the toilet seat. It was too hot for the coat and anyway it wasn't raining – yet – so Alex pulled his jumper on over his T-shirt. Discovering a comb in his pocket, he pulled his hair up into tufts and then put on the sunglasses.
He gave the Crown an assessing look. There wasn't enough space in the rucksack for it and he had no plans to wander around carrying it under one arm. But maybe – Alex lifted the lid of the cistern and peered inside.
The gold would be fine, he decided, and the gems could probably do with a wash anyway. It was just too bad about the velvet. He deposited the Crown gently inside the cistern. There was no room for the Orb so he left that in his pocket. The thought occurred to him that if he didn't make it out, the Crown might never be found. Unless, of course, a conscientious cleaner chanced upon it. Alex grinned.
He closed the cubicle door behind him as he left, slipping the catch across to 'Engaged'. It wouldn't fool anyone for very long. But Alex didn't think he had very long.
He hurried past the Fusiliers' Museum and the New Armouries Café, glancing from side to side. Although he appeared casual, his mind was racing. He had triggered the alarm; with any luck, back-up would be on its way. But in what form? And how long would it take?
At the door to the Lanthorn Tower, he paused, contemplating the steps leading up to the upper walkway. As he hesitated, a man came into view, hurrying down. Recognition was instantaneous on both sides. It was the second soldier from the jewel room.
'Hey!' The soldier charged towards him.
Alex reached into his pocket and tossed a handful of diamonds onto the steps. The soldier lost his footing, grabbing desperately for the rail. He tumbled. Alex bolted.
Alex cursed inwardly and turned round. Another boy from his class, Joe Lane, was hurtling towards him.
'Alex. It is you. You've changed –' Joe skidded to a halt beside Alex. 'Something's up in the Jewel House. They've closed the doors and soldiers are running around like ants.'
'How many soldiers?' The question was out before Alex could stop himself.
'Four or five – hang on.' Joe's eyes narrowed. 'Do you know something about it? Alex, if you spoil this school trip, I swear, I'll – what's that in your pocket?' His hand flashed out, reaching into Alex's pocket and pulling out a fistful of diamonds. 'You dropped one,' he said, his voice full of fury.
'It's not what it looks like.' Alex bent to pick up the errant diamond.
But Joe was no longer paying attention to anything Alex had to say. 'Oh my god. Oh my good. Oh my god.' He rocked back and forwards on his heels. The diamonds scintillated in his hand.
'You sound like a girl.'
Joe dragged his gaze away from the jewels. His mouth opened and closed. He said nothing.
'And you look like a fish.' Alex reached out and removed the diamonds from Joe's unprotesting hand. 'Trust me. This really isn't what it seems.'
'Trust you. You. Alex Rider, who wrecked the Venice trip? Alex Rider, who –'
Alex flushed. 'I can't explain,' he said tightly.
'They'll expel you. Both of us. Oh my god.'
'Don't start that again. Listen. They're not soldiers. They're going to steal the crown jewels.'
'Steal the –'
'Yes. I've got to keep moving till help arrives. Take this.' He shoved the Orb into Joe's hand. 'Keep it safe. They won't be looking for you.' Alex glanced around. There were no soldiers in sight. 'One more thing. The Crown's in the loo near the Brick Tower '
He turned on his heel and ran.
There were quite a few tourists wandering around now, although the big square before Waterloo Block had been emptied and taped off. Alex strolled past the White Tower, heading towards Byward Tower and the main entrance, dropping casually into the shade of a building whenever a uniform appeared. It was impossible to know who to trust. Even if the real army appeared, he would have no way of knowing. He was on his own.
He gave a longing glance at the high walls that bounded the site, but decided against it. Too easy to get trapped and nowhere to run. And if there was one thing Alex Rider was good at, it was running.
He walked down the Raven Walk, watching with interest and not a little queasiness as the birds devoured the white rats the keepers threw for them.
Nearly there. Most peoples seemed to have no idea anything was going on. Perhaps the Tower hadn't gone into lockdown after all. He was going to make it.
He was passing the Bloody Tower when a hand seized him by the throat and dragged him inside.
His head slammed against the tower wall so hard he saw stars and then he was shoved forward, tumbling down a flight of steps and collapsing onto the floor. Alex fought for control. Behind him someone said, 'It's him.'
'Sure?' a second man asked.
'He's done something stupid to his hair but it's definitely him.'
'Good. Go and let the others know. Damn lockdown.'
As Alex's vision began to clear, hands grabbed at his arms and dragged him to his feet. He was thrust backwards onto what felt like a set of inclined planks and rollers. Ropes creaked as his wrists and ankles were tied in place.
'Alex Rider.' The voice was thoughtful. 'It's a pleasure to meet you at last.'
Alex frowned. 'How do you know my name?' He opened his eyes fully, wincing at the pain. A tall, blond man, about thirty years old, stood over him. He wore the uniform of a British army captain.
The soldier raised his iPhone. 'There's an app for that. We call it iSpy.' He held the display close to Alex's face. 'Though I had expected something a little more impressive.'
'Most people say that.' Alex was tempted to shrug but thought better of it.
'Perhaps a little short.' He leaned forwards and took hold of a wooden lever on Alex's left side. 'This will help.' He pulled the lever down.
Alex felt as if he was being torn in half. He back arched as it took the strain and the air hissed from his lungs. The soldier nodded. 'It's a rack, Alex. They don't teach much History in schools, these days, do they? Used on St. Vincent, and later St. Jerome, your Privy Council banned it early in the seventeenth century.' His voice became thoughtful again. 'A shame. I made one for my Masters degree, at Malagosto. Where are the jewels?'
Alex's eyes flicked towards the door. His interrogator smiled. 'I wouldn't hope for any rescue from that quarter. We've put a sign up. A new re-enactment is being developed in the Bloody Tower. We apologise for the inconvenience. You English are wonderful with signs.' He leant forward. His breath stank of stale cigarette smoke. 'So make all the noise you like. Where are the jewels?'
'Go – to – hell.' Every breath was a struggle.
'That's what I thought you'd say.' The lever shifted another notch. Alex bit his lip to stop himself screaming.
'You'll spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair.' The man's breath drifted across his cheek. 'Thank about that, Alex. No one would blame you for talking.'
But Alex was thinking about something else. The last shift of the lever had not brought the agony he had expected; instead of the tearing of muscle and bone he had felt a slight give in the ropes holding his ankles. He kept his eyes fixed on his interrogator's, gently flexing his feet.
'How do I – know – you'll – keep – your – word?' he grunted. One foot was almost free. He began to twist the other.
'Diamonds – on stairs.'
'Don't worry about the diamonds.'
Alex groaned. 'Hurts.'
'Not for much longer. Where did you hide the Crown, Alex?'
Both feet were out of the ropes by now. Alex let his head loll to one side as a distraction while he tensed his lower body. 'Crown – in rubbish bin. Salt tower.' It was a calculated gamble, close enough to the truth to sound convincing. The thieves would know he couldn't have hidden it too far from Waterloo Block.
'Thank you, Alex.' His interrogator stood up. 'Don't go away. We may need to talk again.'
Alex brought both legs up and kicked his captor in the balls. The man made a noise between a grunt and a shriek; as he doubled up, Alex pulled his hands free and rolled off the rack. Grabbing a mattock from the wall, he gave the man a crack across the back of the head with the handle.
His whole body throbbed. The last time he had felt like this was after his first training with K unit. Alex struggled to his feet and wobbled up the stairs.
Alex had never been so glad to hear Joe Lane's voice as he was at that moment. He waited, leaning on a stair rail for support.
'Alex. Oh my god!'
'Your face. It's covered in blood.' Joe took Alex by the arm. If he noticed Alex flinch, he gave no sign. He led Alex over to a wooden bench. Alex sank down. 'Here.' Joe tipped a water bottle over his hanky and wrung it out. 'Clean yourself up.'
'Thanks.' The cool water against his skin was invigorating. Alex looked around. A family with a pram drifted past, chatting and pointing in the direction of the gift shop. The parents exchanged glances. The mother nodded. The two older children ran off, shrieking in excitement and delight. Alex watched them in wonder. How could they be so unaware of the drama that was playing out around them?
A shout from behind them. Alex turned, ignoring the grumbling from his shoulders. The blond man had emerged from the Bloody Tower and was pointing in his direction. Beside him, he felt Joe stiffen. If it is a drama, he thought, this must be the final act. He couldn't run. There was no way out for him now.
Another shout, from the direction of the main gate. Alex stared in disbelief. Five men in combat fatigues were running words them fanning out as they approached. The one on the right was a little smaller than the rest. Alex had seen men run like that before. K-unit had arrived!
The blond man had seen them, too. For an instant he froze, and then he leapt lightly onto the stairs leading to the upper level of the fortress wall by Traitors' Gate.
'He's getting away!' Joe screamed. 'Stop him!'
'You stop him.' Alex was more tired than he had ever been in his life. If he had had the jewels on him, he would gladly have swapped them for a strong painkiller and a cup of sweet tea. I'm a threat to National Security, he thought, and bit down a giggle.
The blond man had appeared on top of the wall and was looking around. There was no escape along the walkway, Alex knew – K-unit would cut him off. Jumping back down into the gardens was equally hopeless. But behind him lay the Thames…
And then Joe Lane did something Alex never forgot. He leapt to his feet and pulled the Orb from his pocket. Running towards the wall, he bowled, a beautiful curving ball that glittered in the sunlight as it arced towards its target. There was a satisfying thwack and the blond man collapsed. The Orb bounced once. Alex heard a splash and a quack from behind the wall; a second later, two mallards took flight, heading across the water.
Joe bowed. 'Howzat!' he cried.
Alex held up a finger. 'Out,' he confirmed. 'For a duck.'
Jack Starbright was sitting at the kitchen table with a mug of tea in one hand when Alex walked through the door. Catalogues were heaped around her. The familiar smell of fish pie came from the oven.
Alex pulled a chair out and dropped carefully into it. 'Fish pie?'
'Five minutes.' Jack closed a catalogue and pushed it towards the pile. 'Are you OK? You look exhausted.'
'Some of the lads were playing cricket.'
Jack grinned. 'You're out of shape.'
'More than you know.' Alex spoke with feeling. 'Shall I set the table?'
'No, we'll eat upstairs. I want to watch Kate Humble. Those lambs are so cute!'
Alex rolled his eyes.
Jack tilted her head at the pile of catalogues. 'You can start working through those. I want a new telly for the Royal Wedding, but there's so much information I don't know where to start. Call it your holiday homework.'
Alex's hand strayed into his jeans pocket. He ran his fingers along the edge of the stiff card, across the embossed calligraphy and the Royal crest.
'Forget the telly,' he said. 'Buy a new dress instead.'
Note: Visitors to the Tower may notice alterations to the precise arrangements of walkways and treasures in the Jewel House. These changes have been made in the interest of National Security.