Bright Star

I only need to make it a distance of a few yards but it’s no man’s land out here. I must look crazy racing towards the stage. I don’t look behind me. I know Lara will have set the dogs on me. Not the real dogs, obviously. Not in front of all these people. There’s nothing anyone can do now. I’m in clear view of the front rows. People are starting to recognise me. I can tell by the way the atmosphere has shifted. I don’t look around, though.

Bang.

Fuck.

My knee.

I stumble but I don’t quite fall.

The stage is so high but I weave my way towards it and there’s no doubt every member of the security team now knows who I am. I run at one of them.

“Give me a leg-up,” I shout when I’m inches away from the confused guard.

Adrenaline is racing through me and I fling myself at him. He has to make a snap decision. I hope he makes the right one.

He does.

He cradles his hands in time to catch my outstretched trainer. At the pace I’m going, the lift is almost enough to propel me onto stage, but I need one more shove. I think one of my shoes is in the guard’s face, but I push down anyway. I reach out and grab the lip of the stage.

I’m up.

There’s the tiniest of dead silences and the lights are still on full blaze. It feels like I’m in some crazy netherworld. I’m not meant to be here, but here I am. The crowd howls and some unseen engineer hurriedly turns the overhead lights down. Khan will be having a fit. But all he can do is go along with whatever I’ve got planned. I move to the microphone, like everything is normal, like I haven’t just clambered onto stage like a lunatic. Then the backing track whirs into life and the beat drops. I grip the microphone. I don’t need to glance behind me to know that the dancers are in position and moving in that staccato way we’ve practised again and again. I should be half a step ahead of them, in synch but in charge, but I don’t move at all. Motionless, I look out at the faceless masses staring in my direction. I take a deep breath and start talking.

“Hey, everybody.”

The people cheer the same way they always do. Except this time I’m going to do something worth cheering.

I hope.

I turn away from the microphone, and walk as confidently as I can to the side of the stage. Maybe the audience think this is part of the routine. Khan knows it’s not. He’s waiting for me in the wings. I can see the glint in his eye as I try to maintain a steady stride. My heart’s pumping an unfamiliar rhythm but I’m determined not to look scared. I am, though, and so I swerve at the last minute. I ignore Khan and talk to a stage technician instead.

“I need a guitar,” I tell him.

Of course the tech looks to see if Khan will give him permission to get me what I ask for. Khan won’t want to, but he’s got no option. For this hour and a half, I’m in control. I need to make this work – before Khan has the chance to get me alone.

I don’t know how long passes. It can’t be more than thirty seconds but it feels like an eternity. Eventually, someone hands me a guitar.

“You need to get the dancers off stage,” I say to no one in particular. Adrenaline is racing through my body. “And turn the fucking track off.”

Then I head back to my spot. The crew are catching up. I’ve got to admit, they’re slick. As I cross the stage, the lights flicker off one by one and the dancers flutter past me in a way that looks almost pre-prepared.

Then it’s just me.

In the one remaining spotlight.

Start N-N-N-N-Nineteen from chapter 1.