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Chapter One

6.

 

Denise Pendlebury loved rolling news channels.  Sometimes, when something big happened, it was more compelling than a scripted drama.  When the platitude of New York had been vandalised by vengeful infidels, she had watched the drama unfold, gripped by each shocking twist and turn, new facts replacing previous beliefs.  It was the confusion that made it so watchable – the initial speculation misleading the viewer, taking them further away from the reality that would be revealed once the bigger picture became clear.     

            It had started when the life of the People’s Princess had been cut so tragically short. Denise had watched for fourteen hours solid, allowing herself respite in Coronation Street, before returning to the national grief.  At first, the Queen of Hearts had been alive, but her lover hadn’t been so lucky.  By the time most of the nation awoke to the news, Denise had known what was going on already.  She had fallen asleep in front of the television the night before and had woken up to the announcement, and remained where she was during the hours of misinformation before dawn broke.  It was morbid, but everyone was doing it.

            The world stopped for a week after she had died, right up until the funeral, when the nation got closure.  It had preceded Big Brother by years, but it was the forefront of reality television.  All engrossing.  Unavoidable.  There was nothing else to do but watch this public tragedy unfold.  The Royals emerged as villains, Diana the victim – accusations were thrown, the body was brought home, people queued up to dish out condolences, the sea of flowers, the brothers anguish – all played out and immortalised on film.  Survivor could never top that.  Elton John played the theme song and everyone sang along.  Television never closed the country, but on the morning of the funeral, it certainly helped it to hibernate.

            Denise had felt a sense of loss when people started to talk about other things, and returned to their shells, the unification buried at Allthorp.  After that, the words ‘breaking news’ always grabbed her attention and got the adrenaline rushing ever so slightly.  Shootings in high schools, dead politicians, war, missing children – news was fascinating.  Denise believed real-life was stranger than fiction.

            Naturally, Denise didn’t tell the world about this.  Hell, she didn’t even admit it to herself.  She always said that she liked to keep abreast of what was going on in the world, not wishing to get too wrapped up in her own life when there were far more interesting things going on in the world.  It wasn’t an obsession as such - it was just something that consumed her once in a while.  Recently, the War on Terrorism had become predictable, and Denise had drifted towards celebrity reality television for entertainment, but when the phone call came in, she was instantly affronted.

            “Have you seen the news?”  It was her friend Rachel.  The words cut through Denise like a knife.  There was news and she wasn’t the first to know.  She had been sat on a borrowed couch watching some cheap tabloid slag bungee jumping when something had happened.  Something important. 

            “Not tonight,” Denise replied down the handset, feigning nonchalance as she leaned over for the borrowed television remote.  “It’s not healthy to know too much about the world.  You’d never leave the house otherwise.”  Rachel didn’t laugh – not only did she know that Denise had been attached to Sky News for four days after the London Bombings, she had also seen a collection of souvenir papers from important days in British history hidden away in a cupboard under the stairs once when she was looking for her coat.  She hadn’t meant the question as a challenge to Denise’s cathartic obsession, it was borne of concern.  

            “Oh, I think perhaps you should switch it on.”

            “What’s happened?” Denise asked, having managed to turn to the nearest news station.  Her mind was swimming with the potential – it had to be something big to warrant a phone call from anyone, especially Rachel, who didn’t seem remotely interested in anything that didn’t affect her directly.  Sky News was running a financial report that Denise instantly recognised as unremarkable and moved on to the BBC. 

            The banner ran across the bottom of the screen ;

             

            BREAKING NEWS:  MAN SHOT DEAD AT ROCK CONCERT

 

            “Do you mean this rock concert thing?” Denise asked, intending to suggest that she knew already.  She feigned apathy and waited for Rachel to talk about something else.

            “Yeah, that’s the one,” Rachel said, her voice shaking a little. 

            “This happens all the time at these events doesn’t it?  It’s those rappers, they’re always promoting violence, and anger.”

            “This isn’t a rap thing, though,” Rachel continued.  “Have you actually heard about this Denise?”

            Damn, Denise thought, she had been rumbled.  She was furious that Rachel had called to catch her out.  It was nothing – there were no bombs, one fatality and a little bit of civil disobedience.  It was hardly worthy of a phone call. 

            “I don’t wish to appear rude, Rach, but why are you calling me at eleven o’clock at night to tell-“

            Denise didn’t finish her sentence, she was silenced by the image on the screen of her son being placed into a police car, his hands cuffed behind his back, and speeding off into the night under the media’s all-encompassing glare.

            “I’ll call you back,” she said and hung up, suddenly aware that she didn’t want to be on the news.

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