The day this doesn't take my breath away, Layla thought, I will stop.
That day was still far distant, though, for Layla's reaction to the sight before her precipitated the familiar reactions--awe, wonder, fear, exhilaration. All around her, lights shone--the stars above and beyond, the beacons of the city below. Leaning over the safety rail at the edge of the roof, Layla looked down hundreds of feet to the sleepless streets. Pinprick pairs of headlights drifted along the roads here and there, while a cluster of dots appeared to be brawling in the closed-up shopping precinct. But all of that urban ugliness was far away from here. Up here, it all looked beautiful, from the brutalist-style tower blocks opposite her to the distant, shining curve of the River Thames.
She let her breath trickle out slowly, drinking in the nightscape, before stepping back and reaching for her backpack. Time was of the essence. She had to leave her signature and get out of here fast. She retrieved her spray paints and set to work, the intricate tag now coming easily to her where she'd once had to take time and care. The exquisite combination of hearts, flowers and barbed-wire knots decorated the roofs of dozens of the city's dilapidated, residential tower blocks. Layla meant to decorate each one before moving on to the greater challenge of the skyscrapers at Canary Wharf.
"Every helicopter pilot knows my name," she told herself with satisfaction, finishing her handiwork with a flourishing signature. Layla, 2011. "And so does he."
Speaking of whom...
Layla packed her paints and hurried back to the rail, looking down into the street. A blue flashing light advanced along the access road. Layla inhaled sharply--he'd been quick tonight. At least, she calculated, he would have to spend some time dealing with the hooligans outside the shops before he came up to try and find her. There was still plenty of time.
Hoisting her backpack over her shoulder, she shinned back down the skylight ladder, closing it carefully behind her. She knew better than to bother with the battered elevators, so she began a leaping descent of the twenty-three flights of stairs instead, keeping a sharp eye out for discarded needles or other dangers on the way.
She'd just made it down to the central lobby when she saw his uniformed figure, together with his partner, buzzing the concierge outside the heavy double doors. She squashed herself beneath the stairs and waited.
After much buzzing, an elderly man shuffled over to the doors, breathing stertorously and cursing under his breath. "Yeah, yeah, what now?"
"There's a girl on your roof, Sir. I don't know if you realized." Adam's voice, always so strident with that sardonic edge, rang through the dingy lobby.
"Girl? Eugh, better than that pirate radio station last month, at least. Go up. Oh, you want me to come up too? Oy. It's three o'clock in the morning."
"I'm aware of that, Sir."
Layla stifled a giggle, picturing Adam's face, one eyebrow wearily raised.
"Luke, why don't you stay down here and keep an eye on those youths--make sure they've dispersed. This'll only take one of us."
Ha! thought Layla. He wants all the glory for himself, of course. Mustn't let his partner share any of the credit.
She waited until Adam's impatient footsteps were distant echoes, followed by the heavier tread of the concierge, before crawling back out. She scanned the hallway for traces of Luke and, finding none, sauntered out onto the concourse.
She knew she would be well and thoroughly hidden in the maze of alleys and walkways that made the estate such a favorite of petty criminals before her pursuer had even made it onto the roof.