These were uncertain and confusing times. In the past month alone Jihadist terrorist cells had exercised their ruthless flavour of violence across the Western world. It had begun in Paris three weeks previously with two simultaneous sieges being bloodily resolved by French special forces. 6 days later, 14 lay dead in a bakery in Copenhagen. A day passed and then 9 dead in Sienna and 5 in Salamanca. Then Ghent and Baden Baden on the same day.
In every case the terrorists had blown themselves up after a short siege. All told, the Jihadists had killed 54 people including 5 policemen, 3 soldiers and 2 children.
The European Secret Services were hamstrung, pitted against an invisible enemy who struck at any time. Unpredictability was their most powerful weapon. And it was working. Two days previously a tearful and embattled head of MI6 lashed out in an interview the BBC, “Tell me then, how would you punch a ghost?”
The cities and towns that were attacked had grown increasingly obscure too, as had the locations within them: A Jewish supermarket, a bakery, a gift shop, a fishing tackle emporium, a garden centre, a chemist. And now HMV in Yeovil.
Elton John turned these facts over in his mind as he checked and double checked the folding stock and foregrip on his Heckler & Koch G36 assault rifle when he was broken from his revery.
“Listen up ladies!”
It was Colonel Furnish, lead co-ordinator of the air assault. He sat in the co-pilot seat of a MH6 Mini-Bird as it chased through the Wiltshire countryside at over 300 miles per hour.
“ACAP are locked up. Code name ‘Mandolin’ is a go.”
Furnish took a breath as he felt the adrenaline course through his veins. He wasn’t going to be on the ground with this bad ass crew. But he knew what this meant. He swallowed and continued like the professional he was.
“Commercial aircraft into Exeter and Bristol are reducing altitude to give us sound cover. There’s no break now. We land, we’re on. 7 minutes ETA. Out.”
Elton looked around at Sigma force. His team. He felt a rising sense of pride. These were his guys. Men of real talent and strength who a few years back might well have lived out their lives, disconsolate and unfulfilled. Elton had found Ian ‘H’ Watkins, former member of Steps, languishing as an assistant manager at Prontaprint in Egham. Now H sat opposite him in the Mini-Bird, widely regarded as the finest Special Weapons and Logistics brain in the history of the Special Forces.
Next to H sat X Factor reject, Chico, who idly spun his Glock 17.9 mm semi automatic pistol around his forefinger like a Wild West gunslinger. What a maverick! Elton had heard word of his excellent marksmanship via the Westlife boys. It turned out that Kian and Chico attended the same gun club. But when Elton eventually found Chico, he was near breaking point, freelancing as a web designer for United Biscuits. Now he was a faultless sniper, who could take down a target from a 1000 yards away in a 40 mph crosswind.
And finally Chris Lowe, silent synth-keyboardist from the Pet Shop Boys, now a flawless demolition expert. Chris didn’t need to do this for money. His 1986 number 1 hit West End Girls had assured him a more than comfortable life. But anyone familiar his pop disco tracks like ‘Domino Dancing’, ‘Suburbia’ and ‘Rent’ would know that he just loved wreaking destruction
Within two years of killer training they were now the Special Forces most prized possession. The jewel in the crown of anti terrorist warfare. The Elite.
Of course, many had tried to join this barbarically tough troop. Bobak from Another Level had been hospitalised after collapsing on Dartmoor. T’Pau drummer Tim Burgess broke his pelvis on the Arctic survival expedition. There were more serious casualties too, including Tears for Fear frontman Roland Orzabal, who lost an arm on exercise in Tunisia after mistaking an IED for a Frisbee. But most disappointing of all was man mountain Chaka Demus, who abandoned the Pliers to train for Sigma Squad. He was an outstanding soldier and strong in the field but sadly failed the written test.
Here they were then, this band of brothers. They looked at each other with pride in their eyes.
“Hey look on the bright side. When we’ve neutralised this mother fucker, we can pick up some Blue Rays!” quipped H. But that was him all over. The joker of the pack.
“Yeah and maybe I’ll pull a ‘Best of Steps’ CD out of the fucking bargain bin,” snapped Elton angrily.
H’s smile vanished as he clenched his manicured fist, “That was uncalled for, Elton.”
“Shut your face Watkins. This isn’t T4 on the Beach. It’s time to FOCUS” spat the podgy pianist.
Chris and Chico shared a smile. Elton was right. Steps did belong in the bargain bin.
“Right. Here’s our guy.” Elton pulled up a blurred image of the terrorist on his Tesco Hudl 2 Tablet. “Mohammed Kabban, 38, radicalised in Finsbury Park, trained in Yemen. He’s the real deal. Let’s look at what we’ve got.”
They turned to the monitor which was streaming live CCTV from HMV. Despite grainy footage they could make out a group of hostages cowered in the boxset aisle. Kabban stalked through the shop, occasionally pausing to pick up a CD or flick through a 1D calendar.
“There’s only one way in and one way out. We’re going through the front door. We take him down then get’em out.”
“How many hostages?” piped up Chico.
“On a Saturday afternoon? No wonder HMV are in financial difficulty,” observed H sagely.
They all nodded slowly. Of course they all felt huge affinity for the now nearly defunct music retail outlet. Elton was reckoned to have sold some 10 million records in HMV alone.
“And for fuck’s sake, watch out for booby traps. I want him dead, the hostages alive and not one piece of merchandise out of place.”
“HELL YEAH!” they shouted.
“Don’t forget, the eyes of the world are on us. LET’S DO THIS” Elton thrust his arm out and they laid their hands on top of each other. “HUH!” Their hands split apart.
“Here we go folks. Lock and load” said Furnish. Sigma Squad were on their feet, pulling down the polymer visors on their kevlar helmets. As they prepared themselves to jump out Colonel Furnish turned and grabbed Elton’s forearm.
“Don’t go breaking my heart.”
“Wouldn’t if I tried,” replied Elton, coyly.
Furnish shook his head and smiled.
Then, BAM! The Mini bird came down hard by the Halifax on the junction of North Lane and Market Street, and they were out, now running down the hill, through the press cordon, the news cameras urgently spinning round to catch them as John Simpson, Huw Edwards, Tom Bradby and Nina Nanaa desperately trying to communicate the excitement and the drama of this desperate situation; part international incident, part pop promo. Just how Sigma Squad liked it.
The streets of the Quedam shopping centre were deserted. Armed Special Forces were on every corner. A makeshift hospital had been set up hard by British Home Stores and there was a working military HQ in the entrance of Iceland. Sigma Squad ran through the watching crowd and slowed as they reached HMV where 40 or so SAS crouched round the windows of the store.
10 yards from the door they paused. Chico and H took up aim to give cover as Chris Lowe crouched down and ran to the door to set the explosives. 20 second later he was back. Elton looked deep into the eyes of his fellow men, breathing slowly, calmly.
“Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” he whispered.
“It’s Chico Time,” said the former novelty pop act.
‘H’ smiled, “Let’s hope it doesn’t end in T-RRRAGEDY!”
Chris Lowe did a perfect impression of the E-mu Emulator keyboard heard on such tracks as ‘Rent’ and ‘It’s a Sin’.
“ON ME” commanded Elton.
BANG! Lowe blew the doors and a split second later Elton, Chico, H and Chris were inside, jumping through the shattered glass. H threw flash bangs around like confetti, BANG, BANG, BANG! The sound was deafening, smoke everywhere, confusion. The 2 for £10 DVD aisle was now on fire.
Suddenly everything went deathly quiet, apart from the whimpering of the hostages. The maglights on their assault rifles lit up the smoke.
“Where are you Mohammed?” teased Elton. “We’re coming to get you…”
“H?, Eyes on anything?” said Elton.
“Not a sausage,” replied H jauntily as if on a day trip to Margate.
“STAY AWAY OR I’LL BLOW US ALL UP” came a deeply nervous voice.
The smoke cleared revealing Mohammed, shaking, standing by the hostages wearing an explosives belt crammed with C4. “Shit,” said Elton to himself. He sized up the payload. There was enough power there to level not only HMV but Laura Ashley, Orvis, the recently closed down Athena, Ciao Bella, Mike Manning Audio, Monsoon and Starbucks. Even the dodgy pound shop, EE, Vodaphone, Phones4U, Carphone Wharehouse and the underrated Trendzphone wouldn’t escape unharmed. Strange that there are so many phone shops so close to each other, Elton mused. Was that regulated by the council? Who knew.
“Okay Mohammed, let’s not do anything stupid,” said the ageing tinkler.
“You think murdering all you infidels is STUPID?, stuttered Mohammed.
“No. I don’t. I think it’s more than stupid. I think it’s idiotic,” said Elton coolly.
“Easy boss,” whispered H, “He’s as unstable as that vest of acetone peroxide.”
“Here’s what’s going to happen Mo,” continued EJ, “Unless you surrender now…”
“I’ve got the detonator in my hand,” screamed Mohammed.
“Unless you surrender now,“ Elton repeated deliberately, “My friend Chico is going to shoot you in the base of the brain rendering your ability to press the detonator ineffective.”
“You’re bluffing,” retorted Mohammed, with more than a note of anxiety in his voice.
“You good Chico?” called the boss confidently.
“You know it,” came the smiling reply
“In 3, 2, 1…”
Suddenly Mohammed screamed, “ALLAHU AKBAR!” and brought his thumb down hard on the detonator.
“It’s Chico Time,” the chisel jawed, D-lister said to himself and fired.
Mohammed collapsed to the floor, dead. In a second Chris was on him stripping away the detonator from the explosives.
“Sorted boss,” uttered Chris.
And then there was an eery moment of silence. The job was done.
“What? No applause?” H called out frostily to the hostages.
And then it began. The one sound they all so desperately craved. The applause and whoops of congratulations from an adoring audience.
“Well stone me,” said Elton, lifting up his visor and lighting a Cohiba, “That’s the first time I’ve ever heard you speak Chris. Anything else to add?”
“Chico man, you gotta get a new catchphrase,” said the Synth wizard.
“Oh and one more thing H, Steps are in the bargain bin,” as he held up their Greatest Hits.
The hostages were now on their feet. The laughing and applauding had reached a crescendo.
“Okay people we’re out of here. I’ve got a benefit gig at Ascot race course and that Joanna ain’t gonna play itself.”
And with that Elton and Sigma Squad jogged out of HMV and headed to the Mini Bird.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
Later that evening Huw Edwards interviewed one of the hostages on the 10 O’Clock news. “It all happened so fast but there’s one thing I can’t get out of my mind.”
“And what’s that,“ asked Huw, deploying his super concerned expression to great effect.
“One of the special forces looked and sounded a lot like Elton John.”
Huw resisted the urge to laugh. “Right. Good.” He was flummoxed but pushed on through. “Well thank you for talking to us.”
He turned back to camera, “Well these are uncertain and confusing times for everyone, I’m sure you’ll agree. Now we’ll return to our headline story: the unfolding events in London tonight as more details emerge about Brian Harvey’s tax return. Pleased be aware that the following story contains some shocking images.”