Learning that the roof over their heads is to be sold and they themselves dispersed, the residents of the Blenheim Nursing Home organise themselves into a fighting co-operative. Deciding that their only security is to own the home, they set out to raise the cash by crime - not realising that the Blenheim is already a front for crime by its current owners.
More gripping than their crime wave, though, is the effect of the venture on the old communards themselves. “In fact the most fantastic development of all in the Blenheim at that time was not so much the founding of the co-operative or Connie's kidnapping as the welling up of so much energy and desire in so many pre-war souls and bodies.”
“... Early that same evening and not long after Nurse Audrey's surgery, a spectacle that would make headlines and fill newsreels all over the world unfolded under the most dramatic of conditions as, with a curtain of fine rain drifting across the square in front of the minster's great west front, the sky beyond cleared momentarily to reveal an immense crimson sun setting among livid clouds. It was the sort of sky that, seen from inside the minster eight centuries before through glass showing the Last Judgement above a fiery pit full of beasts and demons, would have shaken many a groat from many a burgher's wallet to relieve the poor of Abbot's Almshouses. It was a sky, too, to make television cameramen whimper in their sleep as they dreamt of awards ceremonies.
The spectacle would have been memorable even without its thunderbolt of a conclusion, but while nature was responsible for the muted tints of slate, silver and grey forming the background of cobbles in front of the minster, Pee-pee Hardcastle had personally conjured up the contrasting multi-hued snake of umbrellas coiling across the square towards a long table set up at the foot of the minster steps on which giant ledgers were fast filling with signatures of the faithful petitioning for their bishop's release. True, little was actually happening, but the scene's innate tension, like a coiled spring, perfectly echoed the state of his ransom negotiations while also affording commentators leisure to reel off the names of as many dignitaries of church and state as they could spot and identify among the petitioners.
The minster's great tenor bell had just tolled the hour, a sombre sound rolling out in waves into the hills beyond Clibourne Reservoir when, above the hushed murmur of voices and shuffle of shoes on cobbles, there came a silver snarling sound that grew quickly louder – until a 500cc Norton motorcycle suddenly roared into view from behind the minster, accelerated towards the petition table and halted there with a spectacular (if possibly unintended) skid on the greasy cobbles. The smaller and lighter of the figures aboard, cute blonde pony-tail streaming from the back of her helmet, hopped off, ran to the table, dropped something on it, ran back and hopped aboard again – upon which the motorcycle roared off the way it had come. The manoeuvre was executed so quickly and was so unexpected that none of the policemen in the Square, even had they not all been on foot, could have intervened, so the bikers disappeared unmolested through the narrow alley between minster and Abbot's Almshouses, pertly waggling their stern and flashing their brake lights as they wove in and out of the bollards before being lost to view.
Then came the climax of climaxes. As the engine note faded over the hump of Sir Basil Spence's Arfon foot-bridge towards Fairmeadow Walk and an old Ford 'L' Transit van hidden in a side street on the edge of town, the Dean of Hardcastle, who happened to be nearest, dashed forward to the petition table in a billow of robes to see what had been left on it. As he did so, their reflexes honed by years of football and snooker match coverage, cameramen around the square followed him, zooming to the tightest of close-ups as his hand reached out. Millions worldwide thus saw with jewel-like clarity the tiny, perfectly coffin-shaped box he opened – and the severed human finger he lifted out. Between the finger's first joint and knuckle, held in place by a wad of taped gauze sealing the amputation, was Bishop Connie's episcopal ring ....”