Red Light and Bell

Other submissions by Richard Cobourne:
If you want to read their other submissions, please click the links.
Red Light and Bell (Crime, Book Award 2023)
Bandwagon (Crime, Book Award 2023)
Bandwagon (Crime, Book Award 2023)
Bandwagon (Crime, Book Award 2023)
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Golden Writer
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Well-informed behind-the-scenes entertainment action — who to trust in the duplicitous world where celebrity, the police, security services, and politics collide? This exciting page-turner takes you far and wide to Elstree Studios, the 02 Arena, the Houses of Parliament, and to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
First 10 Pages

Thursday – Three weeks later

Inevitably it was raining. Not a heavy downpour, more a drizzle – a ceobhrán or brádán as Enniskillen’s locals might say. Innocuous at the time, yet somehow manages to soak through every layer of the mourners’ clothing. Not that there were many mourners considering this was meant to be a commemoration and interment for the death-in-service of a locally born UK Metropolitan Police Officer.

Within Enniskillen’s Saint Macartan’s Cathedral, there was no media scrum unlike at the cremation in London nine days earlier. There was just one stringer with a camera from the local newspaper, The Impartial Reporter; a very few local family, mainly cousins; not many friends from school and growing up; two officers from the Royal Dragoon Guards in dark suits and regimental ties; and a couple of the deceased’s former close colleagues from around the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland made up the paltry numbers in the mostly empty pews. A funeral is a public event – accordingly, anyone can attend, but no others chose to exercise their option except for the watchers. And the watchers, watching the watchers.

The deceased’s ashes in a simple council urn, sat in lonely isolation on a small table covered with a plain violet pall between the empty choir stalls at the foot of the wooden altar table – an allegory for his life.

Journalist, Danny Owen and PR, Daisy deVilliers sat surreptitiously hand-in-hand. The pew, several rows in front of them, was taken with Detective Chief Superintendent Bill Kelly, Detective Sergeant Rob Andrews, and Detective Sergeant Anastasia Spencer-Hatt – not hand-in-hand.

In the tower, high above them all, the solitary tenor bell weighing over one ton added to the occasion – its ominous tolling seemed somehow lazy, almost lackadaisical. Fewer than a dozen parish churches in Northern Ireland have towers with peals of eight or more bells where campanologists can exercise their skills. Saint Macartan’s Cathedral watching over Enniskillen is one of those – for this sombre day the single bell left the seventy-year-old ringer unchallenged. He would be rewarded with a few drinks later – and then a few more.

The forty-minute service did not include the full Catholic mass – which was probably just as well considering the damp cold had managed to penetrate every mourner seated in the almost three-hundred-year-old cathedral.

Detective Chief Superintendent Bill Kelly was invited to say some, ‘Words in Remembrance.’ He spoke for just over four minutes. He had decided to keep the more salacious stories, suitable for the black humour of his police colleagues, for the wake later.

The deceased could not be described as a good Catholic – DCS Bill Kelly was one of the very few who knew some of the extent of the sinning.

Townsfolk had heard in the distance the strains of the service’s hymns. Traditionally, Abide with Me and controversially for some in Northern Ireland, I Vow to Thee my Country. A few locals crossed themselves in anonymous respect for someone they didn’t know – it was just something they did when funerals were heard in the distance at the top of the hill.

None, except those in the know, spotted the surveillance teams sitting in the gallery high above the nave; or concealed outside around the perimeter; or the heavily armed teams in body armour hidden in nondescript vans parked on the roads leading to and from the cathedral.

For a celebration of a deceased life there were surprisingly few tears and even fewer opportunities to laugh. The service for the late Detective Sergeant Michael Maguire’s ashes concluded – huddled under umbrellas outside, the mourners watched as the urn was lowered into a small grave in line with the Catholic Church’s recommendation of burying the ashes of the deceased.

None felt they could leave in seemingly undue haste until they had shaken the hand of the Reverend Patrick Quigley, the Dean of Clogher, thanking him for a wonderful commemoration and other traditional funereal platitudes. Once duty done, most felt they could, at last, leave to escape from the all-encompassing omnidirectional damp.

‘How long do we have to stay here? I’m soaked to the bloody skin,’ demanded Danny Owen watching the others depart. Journalists can be known to be a crabby lot.

‘I’m working, so have to stay until everyone has gone.’ Bill Kelly surreptitiously put his finger to his ear, listening to a message from one of the watchers via his concealed walkie-talkie. He clicked the switch in his pocket twice to silently transmit he had received and understood. ‘And if I’m here you can bloody well stay too.’

PR, Daisy deVilliers gave the pair of them a filthy look that said so much. Somehow, she always managed to look elegant whatever the occasion or time of day or night. The black knee-high Celtic & Co Popper Boots perfectly matched the black North Face Women’s Apex Bionic Trench Coat – both bought especially for the occasion. They would come in useful for when Martha’s tour resumes, she thought. A chill ran up her spine at the thought of the events that caused the enforced postponement. She pulled up her collar as she looked around – most mourners had departed for the after-show party as Daisy insisted on calling the wake.

The Level Seven Bar within Blakes of ‘The Hollow,’ just down the road from Saint Macartan’s Cathedral was already doing brisk business. Its literary, theatrical and music score ambience seemed appropriate – it is allegedly one of the most famous and oldest pubs in Ireland. Its warmth was beckoning the last of the remaining mourners.

‘Okay, let’s call it a day. Stand down.’ Bill Kelly spoke into his concealed microphone – those in immediate earshot ostentatiously heaved a sigh of relief. He turned to Danny and Daisy – she had been hopping from foot-to-foot trying to keep her feet warm despite the boots, ‘Looks like there is nothing to see here. I’ll see you at the wake in twenty minutes or so. I’ll just clear up here.’

Without further asking the pair walked away from the cathedral, still hand-in-hand, and down the lichen-covered stone slabbed path. They turned left onto the road. Daisy cwtched her arm around Danny’s.

Their thoughts were interrupted by a boy’s voice shouting at Danny, ‘Here, mister. A bloke told me to give you this.’

The boy, without dismounting from his flamboyantly decorated mountain bike, held out a white DL envelope with the name Stanislaw Nowak written in thick black felt pen on the front. ‘He said you’d give me five pounds.’

‘What man?’ asked Daisy, snatching the envelope from Danny.

‘Up the road,’ replied the boy turning around to vaguely point somewhere in the distance. The road was stubbornly empty. Not even an abandoned car in sight.

Daisy fumbled in her handbag for the allegedly-promised five-pound note – she’d claim it back when she did her expenses. The crisp plastic note was exchanged for the envelope, which she stuffed in her already packed handbag. The boy cycled away – his legs pushing hard. The video surveillance would be analysed later.

‘Don’t you want to open it,’ asked Danny.

‘Not addressed to me,’ replied Daisy. ‘And anyway, a large gin and tonic is beckoning.’

Daisy was famed for her encyclopaedic knowledge of the world’s gins – and disdain for house tonic dispensed from some hideous CO2 contraption.

Meanwhile Detective Chief Superintendent Bill Kelly was frustrated – he needed to fully understand the reasons why his former colleague, Detective Sergeant Michael Maguire was so publicly murdered, and by whom.

‘This is very irritating.’ Kelly said to no one in particular.

The frustration was getting on top of him – unusual for the normally calm senior detective. He thought back to what was meant to be a joyous celebration – the return of Martha and her fabulous first night.

Its awful finale.

Day 1 – Thursday Night
The O2

The O2 had never heard anything like IT – twenty thousand people cheering, whistling, applauding, stamping their feet, hugging, some in tears of happy emotion.

Stage centre, there she was – the reinvigorated and relaunched pop-megastar Martha, wearing the long, gold evening dress that she had worn at the top of the show just two fabulous hours ago. The gold discs sewn into the fabric sparkled like personal mirror balls from the six follow spots illuminating her from back, front and sides. The dozens of massive video screens which made up most of the staging brought her face in super high detail, almost intimately, to her devoted fans.

I’m back she thought through waves of elation, as she took long, deep bows. The once-familiar, long-ago forgotten buzz of audience adoration almost overwhelmed her. A buzz that no chemical could replace – legal or otherwise.

‘Thank you... Thank you... Thank you, every single one of you for coming tonight to celebrate with me.’ Her voice was crystal clear helped by the massive hundred-kilowatt time-aligned PA system.

She held both her arms out wide in a visual embrace to her fans – the almost invisible, head worn Shure microphone, specially adapted for Martha’s show, allowed complete freedom. Her front-of-house sound balancer working with Michael Jackson many years ago had acquired the unused Shure Special after Jackson’s sad and premature passing – his loss was Martha’s gain. Martha, in her reinvigorated career, had taken a while to embrace not having to hold a normal radio microphone – the old ways were sometimes more comforting to a performer but, like the custom made in-ear monitors, she realised how much they helped to improve her performance and the audiences’ experience, so could never go back.

The crowd noise reached new levels. Martha looked out from the elaborate stage towards the u-shaped auditorium of the O2 Arena with its four layers – to her it looked like a gaudily decorated birthday cake with too many candles. The corporate boxes, with their champagne sipping clientele, were ringed around the central layer like the jam and cream in the middle.

The ten banks of 5x5 Par30 LED light matrixes high above her head mounted on the specially designed proscenium arch illuminated the audience so she could clearly see her fans – and the fans could see each other sharing in their elation.

Martha gesticulated with her hands to calm them down. On cue as a visual signal, the audience lights dimmed, and the crowd quietened. ‘Thank you... Thank you... As this is the first night of the Martha Movin’ Out tour, I’d like you to help me thank some especially important people who have made my journey here today possible.’

More applause and cheers – up went the lights. Martha waited smiling and laughing for the noise to subside. Once again, her face showed every emotion on the many screens behind and around her. The audience lights dimmed again to settle the crowd.

‘First of all, I’d like to introduce you to my wonderful sister. My twin. My unexpected muse. Someone who helped me to write my new songs whilst we were in captivity together. Please give it up for my gorgeous sister, Vikki.’

The band reprised an over-orchestrated version of the song, ‘Captivity.’

The huge scenic doors at the back of the stage, bedecked with the immense video screens, opened in a backlit cloud of smoke and dry ice to reveal Martha’s twin sister, Vikki, wearing exactly the same costume as Martha. It was remarkable – two peas in a pod. Identical. Martha and Vikki burst out in joyous laughter – no-one had told Martha that tonight, Vikki would be her perfect doppelganger. For a moment, the audience cheering subsided – as one, they gasped. The audience lights were now up at full brightness; the noise ramped up to yet another seemingly impossible level. Vikki walked forward to centre stage – where the two girls hugged for ages. The massive auditorium sparkled with the combined effect of the two mirrored dresses as the cheers and applause continued. Eventually the clamour subsided – a little. The audience lights dimmed; the noisy crowd took this as their cue to reduce their heat from frantic boil to a gentle simmer.

‘As you know Vikki and I were kidnapped and held in captivity…’ cue more cheering at the mention of Martha’s new album, Captivity ‘…held in captivity together. Every cloud has a silver lining. We got to know each other again. Proper sisters. And sisterly love. Vikki helped me to write the new album. She helped me break the creative block of the past seven years. My muse, my gorgeous sister, Vikki – thank you.’

Captivity had rocketed to number one on the back of the very publicly televised release from their kidnap ordeal in the Wye Valley a few weeks before. It had broken all records as the fastest selling CD and download reaching number one, bar Elton John’s Candle in the Wind 1997 – which sold 1.55 million copies in its first week and over half a million on the first day. Martha’s new future seemed to be assured.

The cheers and stamping of feet continued unabated. After a final public hug, Vikki took an extravagant bow, waved, and exited stage left. The band reprised the final bars of ‘Captivity’ – finishing with an extraordinary octave halved downward contra-bass glissando and orchestral major chord. The music and the lights did their thing to control the crowd – if only they realised how they were being manipulated.

‘Thank you to my promoter and producer, Stanislaw Nowak who had the vision and courage to bring me back to you after too many years away. To have faith in me. Thank you.’

Cheers – no-one really cared about Stanislaw Nowak, they were consumed by their love for Martha, and now also Vikki.

Nowak sitting up-stage left in the second tier of the O2’s reserved VIP and celebrity seating struggled to his feet. Two follow spots perfectly illuminated him as he reluctantly waved. He didn’t look like a man who was happy to be thanked – ever the showman outwardly, he tried to show a mixture of some joy and pleasure. Fear, verging on terror remained inscrutably hidden as he acknowledged the applause – he blew a kiss towards Martha and promptly sat down. Few knew the reality of the stress and pressure he was under – and had been under for the past months. How he nearly lost, might lose everything – including his life. This should have been my crowning moment, a respected member of society, Nowak thought. He tried to fold his massive, flabby body out of sight. Daisy deVilliers – Martha’s tour publicity manager – was shocked at his behaviour. She thought her boss, Nowak, would have been loving the praise, the attention, the adulation. Instead, he was shying away from it all. He seems to be afraid of something, she thought, really terrified.

Several celebrities nearby caught in spill from the intense beams of the follow-spots, preened and postured – never miss an opportunity to be photographed and seen was their collective introspection.

‘There are many, many people who I have thanked in private – but there are three groups of people to whom I owe my life and I would like your help thanking. Firstly, to the Special Forces who rescued Vikki and me from captivity,’ Martha attempted to continue, but had to take an enforced break for the inevitable light-induced cheering. ‘You saw them in action on TV and in the newspapers. Their bravery and selfless dedication to their jobs is an inspiration to us all. They are here tonight as my guests, they know who they are, but for obvious reasons I cannot tell you who or where they are. The words thank you are simply not enough. But thank you.’

Everyone looked around to see if they could identify their covert heroes. No-one could. More applause. Thirty Vari-lights circled across and around the auditorium and across the domed ceiling, dazzling, tantalising, and mocking – where and who are our heroes?

‘To Detective Chief Superintendent Bill Kelly and his team from the Metropolitan Police, for your persistent dedication – without you, my sister and I wouldn’t be here today. Thank you.’ Some of the Met Police team, sitting in the VIP and celebrity seats in the row in front of Stanislaw Nowak, sat up straight, and in embarrassment half-heartedly waved and then had no choice but to applaud each other less-than-enthusiastically – they were all well and truly out of their comfort zone, sitting far too near to Stanislaw Nowak, a person-of-interest for far too long. One day their turn would come to put him behind bars. As if Nowak could hear the Met Police’s combined thoughts, he turned around to face Bill Kelly sitting two rows behind and gave him one of his sickliest bravado grins. If only they know what I know, Nowak thought. Kelly remained outwardly impassive.

‘And finally, last but not least, Danny Owen and Daisy deVilliers – thank you for your love, support, and unselfish dedication in helping me and Vikki in so many ways. Most of you will know Danny from his radio shows on Starshine. He and Daisy, my publicist, were instrumental in so much, helping me over the last few weeks. They put themselves unselfishly at risk to ensure we can all be here today. I love you both.’

Without the benefit of stage make-up, the follow-spots’ intense bright white light made them look ghostly-pale. Danny squeezed Daisy’s hand as they stood to acknowledge the cheers – they waved with their free hands. Both had become minor celebrities in their own right, having spent hours on the radio and TV, and in the papers telling and retelling their story in the rescue of Martha and Vikki. Or that part of the story that could be told.

Yuliet Spooner, sitting beside Danny and Daisy leant away from the blinding light; she had asked that her name be kept out of the public approbation. Her anonymity wasn’t one hundred percent guaranteed but working at the Centre for Covert Media Studies meant she needed to remain as low profile as possible – it wouldn’t do for a covert investigative journalist to be outed to this massive crowd. She, more than anyone, knew the full extent of Stanislaw Nowak’s criminal past and present. The file in her Chubb Trident Euro Grade Six safe at her office near Kings Cross Station, with copies secreted in her house and in another location, contained sensational information that would be revealed in a series of yet to be published exposés to the discomfort of not just Nowak, but several other high-profile individuals. The police, sitting around her, would give their eye-teeth to see it – if only they knew of its full contents, or the identity of the person from whom she had obtained it.

Martha blew Daisy and Danny a kiss – the audience cheered, half-heartedly. They’d done enough thanking and wanted to get on with it. The audience lights went out.

The main stage lighting cross-faded to a deep, deep blue – almost ultra-violet. A single follow spot and two rich gold back lights were trained on Martha. The band took their cue from the show-caller for what was meant to be the final song of the night, Martha’s massive number one Christmas hit from ten years ago, ‘Missing You, Loving You’ – it stayed at the top for seventeen weeks. Once again, the cheering and whistling and applauding ramped up as the massive crowd realised that they were going to hear their song from younger days. Memories flooded back. Those in relationships, and some who weren’t, held each other’s hands. Many hugged. Several kissed passionately ignoring those around them.

Martha spoke over the opening bars of the music. ‘Please join in with me. Sing with all your hearts as we all remember those friends and family we love. And especially those we still love but who are no longer with us…’

Mobile phone torches and the centrally controlled multi-coloured illuminated wrist bands were waved high above everybody’s heads – memorial candles. The emotional effect on everyone was breath-taking.

Martha sang the words in a moving, intimate tribute to her siblings and parents who were killed in the terrible crash many years ago in thick fog on the M1 north of Watford. She often thought what her life would have been if they were still alive. Would she even have had the success without their death spring-boarding her career? Would they have been proud of her? Or would she still be touring the booze-soaked social clubs of the Midlands of the UK scraping a meagre living?

Pull yourself together, she told herself as she sang. That was before. This is now. Come on. Perform. Give it everything you have.

Her performance soared even higher. Oh yes. I’m back.

Every single person in the 02 Arena was mesmerised. Except one – whose mind was elsewhere, preparing.

Theatrically revealed on tiered decking at the rear of the stage were members of The London Gospel Community Choir in white trousers and jackets, some in surplices. For most of the concert they had been in the vocal booth or in amongst the band providing BVs – backing vocals. The sight and sound of their close harmony choral vocals added poignancy. The choir, driven by the altruistic vision of peace, love and unity created an infectious passion and charisma. It was a major coup for Jimmy to persuade them to join the Martha Movin’ Out tour – the choir has a global reputation having collaborated, performed, and recorded with Elton John, Madonna, Paul McCartney, Annie Lenox, Sam Smith, Ellie Goulding, Jessie J, Adele and many more. Martha was as excited to have them on stage with her, as they were to be on stage with Martha.

‘I’m Missing You, I’m Loving You, forever… and ever… and ever…’ Martha’s coloratura soprano voice was superlative. The final notes drifted away accompanied by a suspended soft stick roll on the cymbals – for a few seconds there was almost silence as the sentiment washed over everyone. Then the roar grew and grew. And grew.

The crowd chanted Martha’s name.

‘Martha, Martha, Martha, MARTHA, MARTHA…’ which continued for over five minutes.

Martha couldn’t leave the stage. She was genuinely gobsmacked. Not one of the sometimes-cynical technical team or musicians had ever heard an ovation like it. Tour manager James ‘Jimmy’ Patrick conferred with Martha’s musical director on their comms packs. The show caller, sound, lights, and the rest of the tech team confirmed they were ready to go. The band cued up the unscripted reprise of ‘Captivity,’ Martha’s most recent stellar hit.

Martha needed no asking – she gave a performance that some say was the best of her life. The crowd’s collective singing of the chorus was breath-taking…

I found peace in captivity
Whom I’m supposed to be in captivity
A brand new me in captivity
And finally I’m free

Once again, as the song finished, the crowd reached new levels of elation – a staggering collective ovation for Martha. She took her fifth bow after the unexpected second encore. The audience wanted, demanded, more. Martha looked out across the sea of affection – everywhere brightly illuminated.

‘Martha, Martha, Martha, MARTHA, MARTHA…’

Martha looked off stage to Jimmy, the tour manager. She raised her eyebrows in a silent request. Another encore?

Jimmy ignored her. He was deep in conversation on his radio talkback system. ‘Mute Martha’s mic,’ he instructed the sound team. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, he rapidly walked onto the stage with a strained smile, took Martha theatrically by the hand and, waving to the crowd, started to escort her off the massive space.

‘What the fuck are you doing?’ demanded Martha, through a forced public smile unheard by her adoring fans. ‘They wanted more.’

Jimmy’s grip on Martha’s hand tightened.

‘Smile and wave.’ Jimmy was insistent.

Martha reluctantly flourished her free hand high above her head in an enforced fond farewell. She might not have liked it, but she trusted Jimmy’s judgement. She tried to give her best stage-smile as she reluctantly waved. Confused thoughts bounced around her elated mind. What the fuck is going on?

The crowd cheered and booed – they wanted more of Martha. She was their Martha. The star of their lives. Who was this man who had the audacity to drag an obviously unwilling Martha off stage?

As soon as they were out of view of the audience, at the side of the stage behind the leg lines, Martha turned on Jimmy. ‘I repeat. What the fuck are you doing?’

Jimmy said nothing, except nod at Martha’s close protection team, who surrounded her and hassled her to her dressing room collecting Vikki on the way – the two men stood guard outside and the two women entered the room with her. All looked worried as they listened to the multiple reports on their earpieces.

Outside in the auditorium amongst the foot stamping, cheers, whistles, and joyous shouts could be heard the beginnings of terrified screams.

Daisy deVilliers had, for the first time in her thirty-odd years, seen the inner contents of someone’s head distributed over a wide area – her first reaction was amazement that something the size of a small football could contain so much. Perversely she then worried about how she was going to get the nauseating mess off her floral jacket, blue striped blouse, black trousers and black J’Adior pumps given to her by Christian Dior’s PR manager.

Sitting beside her, Stanislaw Nowak tried to push the heavy, lifeless body off him – it was knocked back onto him by the heavy round’s kinetic energy from the sniper’s rifle. He was drenched in warm pumping blood and the remains of Detective Sergeant Michael Maguire’s brains.

Then reality kicked in. Unlike many fans in the tiers of public seating above, besides, and immediately in front of her, Daisy did not scream – everyone reacts differently to traumatic shock. She instinctively leapt to her feet, looked down to her left at the shuddering body in its death throes on top of the squirming Nowak – her mouth unable to form any words.

Danny, on Daisy’s right leapt to his feet. He automatically, lovingly, tried to take Daisy in his arms – snapping her back to reality. Danny was equally spattered with blood, mucus, and human brain even further daubing Daisy’s already blood-sodden party-wear.

Daisy ignored him, pushed Danny and Yuliet away as she scrambled across the other guests in her row, distributing even further the dead body’s detritus. In panic, she stamped on their feet and tripped over their legs in her escape to the aisle on the far side. Few noticed, as they tried to absorb and reconcile what was going on.

Danny Owen, once investigative journalist, now reluctant celebrity reporter on Starshine, the London-based independent radio station was on high alert – his adrenaline pumping. He had met the victim only on a couple of occasions in the meeting rooms of New Scotland Yard, yet this was still personal. He and Yuliet were the only journalists in the immediate vicinity of the terrible event. All the other media were in the Golden Circle immediately in front of the stage – and too far away, or their sight lines obscured, to be able to make sense of the scene going on above them to their right.

Danny tried to chase after Daisy. His way was blocked by VIPs and celebrities struggling too to make their escape. His journalist instincts kicked in – he pulled out his iPhone 13 Pro Max with one hand and started taking pictures.

Detective Chief Superintendent Bill Kelly, who had been sitting two rows behind Nowak, and away from his Metropolitan Police colleagues and families, attempted to take control – he had seen the effects of a bullet too often. He shouted, ‘Sergeant Andrews, Rob, get everyone away from here as quickly as possible. VIPs, celebrities, and AAAs to the green room. Don’t let anyone else from nearby leave the O2. Detective Sergeant Spencer-Hatt… Anastasia call it in – request full back up. We’ll need the lot.’

‘For fuck’s sake, get those lights off us,’ Kelly pointed at the audience lights just recently used as a catalyst for joy – he had escaped the bloody drenching, but didn’t want every self-appointed citizen journalist photographing the carnage just in front of him.

He looked down at the body, Nowak and then to Danny ‘What the hell are you doing?’

‘What it looks like? Taking pictures,’ humphed Danny, continuing to snap away. ‘You’ll want some for scene-of crime – best to get them now whilst everything is fresh and untouched.’

‘As long as I don’t see them online, the TV or in the papers.’ Kelly was terse.

Danny didn’t reply. His iPhone was attempting to synchronise his images to his Cloud account – but even with the allegedly lightning-fast 5G it seemed painfully slow.

Alongside and around them members of the audience could see some of what was going on – an almost head-less body on top of a struggling man with deep red blood distributed around the seating area, onto the concrete floor, and amidst the VIP and celebrity guests. As is often the case at a time of modern tragedy the camera phones were out – the screens distancing the photographer from reality. Several war-reporting news cameramen in conflicts around the world had been killed simply because they thought they were isolated by the viewfinder.

The chaos began to build and build, as nearby onlookers eventually accepted the reality of what they were seeing illuminated by the dazzling audience lights – some were sick, some were transfixed, whilst others tried to make sense of it. What was unanimous was their total horror as phones-in-hand they began to race for the exits – little encouragement needed.

Then came the hysterical scream, no one knew whence it came. ‘Oh my God, it’s a bomb.’

And that was it.

The cry of ‘bomb’ was repeated like an aural Mexican Wave. The terror and panic grew. Word and rumour spread like an uncontrolled viral infection – the screams were long and piercing. Once happy, Martha’s adoring fans now scrambled for the exits, pushing, shoving, falling over each other.

The capacity crowd of over twenty thousand people, some with the end of Ariana Grande’s Manchester concert flooding back, rushed up and down the stair ways, stair wells and foyers to escape. The ordinary and emergency exits of the 02 were jammed as people fought to pass each other in obscene selfish panic.

Frantic parents, friends and families lost contact – later to begin what would be the hours-long search for their children, and those from whom they had been separated when the rush to apparent safety began.

Once outside some took to social media posting photos with increasingly desperate guessed, misinformed and downright fake news – which was picked up by TV, radio, and the press across the world. The less professional media abandoned any semblance of verification from independent sources preferring citizen journalism to grab the headlines first before their rivals. It wasn´t long before truth and fiction completely parted company, forever consigned to the inexplicable customs of social media and sensationalised rolling news.

Daisy deVilliers’ began to process what she was seeing a few metres away from her. The uncontrollable shaking began to subside as she gripped the handrail on the side of the stairs. People passed her, knocked her, and banged into her as they made their irrational panicked escape.

Daisy held fast. She knew she would have, did have, a job to do. Her phone started to go nuts – at first one or two WhatsApp and text messages, then it ramped up dinging every second. She couldn’t reject phone calls fast enough. As the Martha Movin’ Out tour’s PR, every journalist she had personally invited seated in the Golden Circle directly in front of the stage wanted to know from her what was going on – and wanted a quote from Martha.

Oh my God, Martha, she thought. ‘I must see Martha,’ Daisy demanded over the increasingly strident uproar.

‘She will have gone,’ Danny shouted in reply. ‘You saw Jimmy take her off stage. He knows what to do, she will be in her car well away by now.’

‘I’ll call her,’ panicked Daisy. But her phone was not allowing her to make outgoing calls, overwhelmed by the incoming demands of the baying media. Then the whole internet and mobile phone networks ground to a halt – overwhelmed by the sheer volume. The system was swamped as more than five hundred emergency calls were made by the public from inside and outside the entertainment complex.

Ambulances, police officers, first responders, radio reporters, TV news trucks with satellite up-links, and the thoughtless who are never happier unless they are watching other people’s anguish unfold, rushed to the plaza outside the massive dome.

Ten-year-old Camden Town native Amelia Cohen, Mia to her friends and family, was the second person to die that night – the life crushed out of her by the selfish stampeding crowds. Her death passed unnoticed by almost everyone – such was the bedlam.

Yuliet Spooner had surreptitiously moved – she now sat at the top of the seating block quietly observing from on high, taking the occasional picture and making notes – no one noticed her in the pandemonium. To her experienced eye something wasn’t right – her career had taken her all over the world to what are euphemistically called hot spots. She had witnessed random shootings and calculated assassinations – even speaking with the gunmen, all too eager to show off. She just escaped with her life on the last ‘plane out of Kigali the day after Rwandan genocide began – she was there to interview Agathe Uwilingiyimana, the late Prime Minister of Rwanda, who had been slain earlier that day.

Stanislaw Nowak, the producer of what, up until then, had been the culmination of months of work was in shock. He was exhausted from unsuccessfully attempting to remove the leaden almost headless corpse from on top of him. Sergeant Rob Andrews levered away Detective Sergeant Michael Maguire, his former colleague, to release Nowak. He shouted, ‘Get out Nowak. Go to the Green Room and stay there.’

His shouted command was ignored – so he grabbed Nowak by his soaking wet shirt pulling him to his feet, ‘Get out of here. Green Room. Now!’

Nowak, who had been sitting immediately behind Maguire, gazed at Rob Andrews uncomprehendingly – these bodily fluids were not what Nowak normally enjoyed in his sordid private life.

Andrews tried again. ‘Now. Get backstage and stay in the Green Room. Do not, I repeat not, move from there.’

Nowak snapped, suddenly switched to attention – he lumbered up the stairs brandishing his AAA pass, Access All Areas. He was none too gentle with anyone who got in his way – pushing them aside. Some stumbled. Some fell. Some swore. Some recoiled in horror at Nowak’s disgusting bloodied state. But he didn’t care. He crashed through the security gates and into the relative serenity of the backstage lift.

The Green Room, booked for the private after-show party, was filling with an increasingly noisy throng of cast, crew, musicians, a few journalists and ‘friends and family,’ the hangers on who know someone – or know someone who knows someone. Everyone demanding to know what was happening and why they were locked in there. Don’t you know who I am?

Many made the most of the lock-down, unaware of the gory details of what going on outside – the free bar was doing brisk business. Waiting staff, wearing gold Martha Movin’ Out aprons, distributed small plates of food – which were disappearing as fast as they could be served.

Nowak burst into the Green Room to be greeted by hysterical shrieks. He was an appalling sight, covered by the scattered contents of Maguire’s skull – in hindsight it was agreed that Nowak together with the other bespattered VIPs and celebrities should have been kept isolated.

Nowak collapsed into a chair in a corner – he was uncontrollably shaking and on the verge of tears.

The glitterati in the Green Room lost their appetite for the gourmet grub – but found an increased need to load up with free alcohol. Some returned from the lavatories with an intense feeling of happiness, inappropriate sexual arousal, loss of contact with reality, and a remarkable effect on the reward pathway in the brain. A few had left careless evidence of white powder around their nostrils, further corroborated by remarkably dilated eyes.

Up in the catwalk high above the rapidly emptying auditorium Aleksandr Makarov looked down at the results of his day’s work – his moment in time, as he liked to call it. He alone was impervious to what he considered to be the collective stomach-turning emotion generated by Martha’s fans below him.

Aleksandr Makarov wasn’t the name he was given at birth, but instead one the philologist engaged by the FSB had given him – the Russian Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti, more commonly known as the Federal Security Service. Makarov had long ago determined his name was suitably anonymous and could see no point in changing it back to his family and given name when he left the FSB twenty years ago to pursue a lucrative freelance career as a hired assassin. He had decided this would be his last job. The police and security services had never caught up with him – luck and careful planning on his side. They only have to be lucky once, I must be lucky all the time he told his fellow assassins announcing his retirement via an encrypted message on the dark web. His hope was he could settle down to enjoy his accumulated wealth with his recently acquired girlfriend, who knew him only by his given name and who had no idea that he was an international gun for hire. She thought he was a highly successful, freelance global pharmaceuticals sales consultant.

Just before pulling the trigger, he checked his mobile phone. The signal was strong and the battery good – he had not been stood down by the UK mobile phone number. He calmed his breathing and steadied his heart rate for what, for him, was an easy shot. As soon as the subsonic round had left the rifle Makarov was on his way – saving a precious one and a half seconds. He did not need to see the certainty of his marksmanship – like a rugby player knowing when the ball was kicked safely between the posts. He just had time to see a head catastrophically distribute its blood and jelly-like contents onto those seated near his target before he was temporarily blinded by the dazzling effects lighting.

He made his escape quickly and unseen – his instructions had been, under all circumstances, not to be discovered. He regretted that he would have to leave behind the Vintorez rifle, originally issued to him by the Russian special operations units controlled by one of the main military intelligence services of the Spetsnaz. One of several he had forgotten to return when he changed careers – his fee for today’s work easily covered its cost.

He quickly looked around for anything that might give him away. With his gloved hand he had already picked up and pocketed the single spent SP5 cartridge that had recently done its duty propelling the Teflon-coated subsonic 9mm x 39mm hollow-point round across the diagonal of the O2 arena at 263 metres per second.

As Aleksandr Makarov carefully retraced his steps along the elevated catwalks he had taken much, much earlier that day, he arrived at his chosen hiding place for his weapon. The maze of cables and air-conditioning conduits had offered several choices. He carefully opened the access hatch with his multi-purpose pocket-knife – a Russian imitation of the ubiquitous Swiss Army Knife. The rifle wrapped in black cloth would not be seen by anyone casually inspecting the area in a first pass. The rifle, inevitably, would be found – but its location would hopefully confuse for a short while the forensic teams trying to establish from where the shot had been fired and at whom he was aiming. Of course, the detailed inspection by scene-of-crime and forensic officers would inevitably discover the weapon, but this would buy time – not that there was anything to personally identify him with the Russian weapon. All identifying marks had been filed off and then acid-etched away. He relocked the hatch.

He wouldn’t be seen as it was forbidden for anyone to enter the walkways above the auditorium when people were present below – and it was almost impossible to be seen by most casual observers at arena level. There was little he could do about the disturbed dust – as a distraction earlier in the day he had deliberately scuffed and buffed various other areas by taking various paths along and around the elevated catwalks close to the taut PTFE-coated glass fibre fabric roof of The O2 entertainment complex on the Greenwich Peninsula in southeast London.

He brushed the remaining obvious dirt from his clothes and made his way back down into the public levels to join the panic-stricken throng hurrying from the O2.

In the chaos he planned that no-one would see him make his escape; the spent cartridge to be thrown later into the nearby River Thames to join centuries’ worth of trash, treasure, firearms, and inevitable supermarket trolleys that one day might be discovered by the mud larks.

The clothes he was wearing would be given the following day to a homeless man he had identified during his recce – he had checked there was no nearby CCTV to capture his altruism.

With a spring in his step, he briskly strolled along the newly created The Tide, London’s first elevated park, towards North Greenwich Pier to take, as planned, the next Thames Clipper River Bus.

My slow boat to safety, Makarov mused.