Olympic Stadium, Moscow; September 2011

 

Olympic Stadium, Moscow; September 2011

The gigantic, semi-circular stage erected inside the Olympic Stadium had been transformed into a haunted cemetery, complete with cobwebbed tombstones

flanked by crying angels, sad-looking willow trees, live crows in cages and a large, pale moon, suspended from a mobile crane.Set against a backdrop depicting frightening ghouls and hooded monks, clever props and light effects completed the illusion. In front of the stage, a hundred thousand eager fans waited excitedly to hear the band. They began to chant ‘Isis! Isis! Isis!’ as their idols walked on stage. Whipping up the crowd, the drummer began the introduction to their signature number – ‘It’s Time; come with us’ – before the throbbing bass joined in and the guitars screamed into life. The Russian leg of Isis and The Time Machine’s Echoes from the Grave World Tour had begun.

Transformed into an Egyptian goddess in her white silk robe and golden crown, Isis lay motionless in a glass coffin six feet below the stage. The hydraulics engineer adjusted the switches and waited for the signal from the stage manager. As the band was about to finish ‘It’s Time’, the stage manager gave the nod. Slowly, the coffin ascended.

On the stage above, a large tombstone made of plywood and papier-mâché also began to rise, while green, smoke-like fog oozed out of the other tombs and covered the stage. As the glass coffin emerged from the open grave, the crowd became hysterical.

The security guards in front of the stage barely managed to hold back the howling fans as Isis came into view. The guitars fell silent, and only the drummer continued with a mesmerising, blood-boiling solo.

On cue, the engineer flicked another switch and the glass lid of the coffin slowly opened. Suddenly, Isis came to life. First, she raised her arms, then her head. The guitars were back, playing ‘Resurrection’, the first track of The Time Machine’s new studio album, which had shot to number one in twenty-eight countries since its release a month earlier.

Isis now stood up in the open coffin, took off her serpent crown and tossed it towards the jubilant crowd. Then she let the white robe slip from her shoulders, exposing her stunning, tattooed body. Wearing only a tiny black bikini studded with diamonds, her trademark black boots and fish-net stockings, Isis somersaulted out of the coffin – her acrobatic feats on stage were legendary – and began to sing.

Lola Rodriguez, Isis’ fiery personal assistant, took the phone call and paled. Collecting her thoughts, she slipped the phone back into her pocket and began to look for the production manager. ‘Where’s Ed?’ she asked, hurrying to the improvised change rooms behind the stage. The sound technician sitting in his booth pointed to some scaffolding supporting the five-storey high canvas backdrop. Ed Walker, the production manager, was keeping an eye on the stage through a small window cut into the canvas.

‘Can I have a word?’ shouted Lola, trying to make herself heard. The music was deafening.

‘Not now, Lola, she’s about to come off for a costume change,’ replied the production manager, looking stressed.

‘It’s urgent.’

‘Okay. What’s up?’ asked Ed. When Lola told him about the phone call, he was visibly shocked. ‘Jesus, Lola, what are you going to do?’

‘I have to tell her right now, what else?’

‘Can’t you wait until after the show?’

‘Are you kidding? She’ll eat me alive if she finds out I’ve held this back.’

‘You’re right. Good luck! Here she comes.’

Blowing kisses to her adoring fans, Isis strutted off the stage, her body covered in tiny beads of perspiration glistening like diamonds in the spotlight. Isis caught her breath, took a glass of iced tea from the waiting attendant and headed straight for her change room. The next five minutes were vital. During this short time, she would undergo a breathtaking transformation. Similar to a pit stop in a Formula One race, the costume team waiting for her knew exactly what had to be done. Every second counted.

Isis began her breathing exercises, swept into the tiny room and, standing in front of a large mirror, let her team go to work. Any interruption or distraction of any kind during this critical procedure was strictly forbidden.

Lola pushed past the frowning make-up artist and stood next to Isis. Isis watched her in the mirror and shot her a disapproving look that would have sent a grown tiger packing. ‘I must speak to you privately …’ began Lola haltingly, ‘it’s urgent.’

‘What; now? Are you out of your mind?’ hissed Isis. Lola insisted. Isis realised at once something was wrong. ‘Everybody out,’ she commanded curtly. ‘Put my entry back three minutes and close the door.’ Everybody stopped working and left the room. ‘This better be good,’ said Isis, carefully watching her personal assistant.

During the next sixty seconds, Lola recounted her earlier telephone conversation with the London police. Isis sat down on the make-up stool, her face ashen, and for a while didn’t say anything. Her mind racing, she contemplated the consequences of what she’d just heard.

‘What are you going to do?’ asked Lola, conscious of precious seconds ticking by.

‘I’ll go back on and complete the show. As soon as it’s over,  will fly to London. Get my plane ready—’

‘What about Tokyo?’ interjected Lola, ‘The next concert is in three days.’

‘Everything goes ahead as planned. I’ll be there in time. Does anyone else know about this?’

‘Only Ed.’

‘Good. Now, send them all back in, and not a word of this to anyone; understood?’ Lola nodded. Isis leant across to Lola and kissed her tenderly on the forehead. ‘Thank you, Lola. I don’t know what I’d do without you.’

Her cheeks glowing, Lola hurried out of the room. She lived for moments like this.

Pegasus – Isis’ private jet – began its descent in preparation for landing. Lola walked to the back of the plane to wake her mistress. ‘We’re almost there,’ she whispered, gently touching Isis on the shoulder. Isis nodded, but didn’t open her eyes. ‘Your car will meet us on the tarmac. We should get to the hospital within the hour, London traffic permitting.’

Slumped into the back seat of her black Bentley, Isis was trying to prepare herself for what she sensed would be a life-changing ordeal. She hated hospitals with a passion, but worst of all was not knowing what had happened. They had been told so little. For someone used to being in control, uncertainty was torture. All she knew was that her parents, Lord and Lady Elms, had been attacked in their London home. Her father was dead and her mother on life support, not expected to live.

Two policemen from the Metropolitan Police met them at the designated side entrance to the hospital’s casualty section and ushered them discreetly inside. Standing in the lift behind Boris, her Ukrainian wrestling-champion turned bodyguard who followed her everywhere like a shadow, Isis reached for Lola’s hand and squeezed it. Isis had always found looking at the huge man’s massive frame and bulging neck muscles reassuring, but not so this time. Boris could protect her from many things, but not from what she was about to encounter.

As she followed the policemen down a dimly lit corridor smelling of cleaning fluids and disinfectant, Isis tried in vain to calm herself. She could confidently go on stage and face a hundred thousand adoring fans, yet with each step her anxiety grew, fear clawing at her throat.

The softly spoken surgeon waiting at the end of the corridor explained with clinical efficiency that Lady Elms was conscious, but could slip away at any moment. ‘She’s waiting for you,’ he said. ‘That is what’s been keeping her alive. I don’t think she’ll be able to speak anymore, but she wants to see you …’ Opening the door he added, ‘I must warn you, her injuries are horrific.’

Isis nodded and went into the room alone.

At first, Isis thought there had been a terrible mistake. The person lying on the bed in no way resembled her mother. The face – mutilated beyond recognition – looked as if it had been attacked with a meat cleaver. Head turned towards the door, the person was staring at her with unseeing eyes. Then something happened: sensing her son’s presence, Lady Elms’ dying brain produced a final moment of clarity. Her mouth opened and the lips began to move, but there was no sound. However, coming closer, Isis thought she could hear something.

Georgie?’ whispered the mangled piece of flesh on the pillow. The face may have been unrecognisable, but there was no mistaking the voice.

‘Mama!’ cried Isis, falling to her knees next to the bed.

‘I knew you would come. Listen …’ said Lady Elms, her voice barely audible. Exhausted by the effort, she kept staring at Isis. Her lips kept moving, unable to form words.

‘Hush … You must rest,’ cried Isis, reaching for her mother’s limp hand.

The touch of her son’s hand seemed to revive Lady Elms. ‘Great danger … for you,’ she warned. With her eyesight gone and blood filling her lungs, Lady Elms began to choke. ‘My …’ she whispered, her voice barely audible, ‘our secret place … hide and seek – remember?’

‘I do. But what—’

‘Stars, hide your fires …’ With her last breath fading, the unfinished sentence turned into a final farewell from a loving mother leaving an inconsolable son to mourn her tragic departure.

The surgeon’s trained ear heard it first: the alarm on the life support system had been activated. He burst into the room, followed by Boris and Lola. The furiously flashing lights on the monitors told him everything he needed to know: his patient was dead. Blood was still oozing out of Lady Elms’ open mouth. Kneeling on the floor next to the bed, her cheeks covered in blood, Isis was sobbing uncontrollably. Sadly shaking his head, the surgeon walked over to the machine and turned it off.

[SA1]Do you think she needs to mention Boris, as he accompanies them as well?

[GF2]No need. Let’s leave it as is.

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