Shit, shit, shit! Becky glanced at her watch. Ten to ten. I can’t be late again! Especially today. She ran as fast as she could across a wet and windy Waterloo Bridge towards the South Bank Centre.
She made it just in time. Henry, always the first to arrive, was at his usual position at the bar area reception desk. He was swaying along to the reggae beat playing in the background and gave Becky a knowing wink as she ran past him, greeting him as she went.
Becky rushed to put ‘reserved’ signs on five of the window tables. She was just placing the last of them when Nick and Adam arrived and headed for their usual table. They mouthed Becky their hellos, made coffee signs and sat down. She watched them take out their laptops, plug in their earphones and begin to type. God, did these people ever talk?
As she made their coffees, Becky remembered how differently she’d felt about the writers’ group when she’d first started here two years ago. She’d found them all a bit pretentious in their black jeans, their uniform laptop messenger bags slung across their shoulders. She’d felt uncomfortable around them. As she got to know them, she changed her mind. They were okay. Nick even persuaded her to join them from time to time when it wasn’t busy and her boss wasn’t around.
The idea was that they all wrote for two hours and then whoever wanted to, stayed on for a drink and a chat. She wouldn’t be joining them today though.
The writers tables soon filled up. There were nine of them today. Clicking of keyboards merged with the background music and gentle chatter from the other side of the bar which was now full of other customers breakfasting, chatting and reading. The writers never ordered very much. Becky couldn’t understand why the management were happy to let them have these tables for up to three hours every Saturday morning. Most sat there for the full two hours with just one coffee or even tap water.
Becky felt a pang of envy as she watched Adam and Nick writing away, lost in their story worlds. She drifted off into her own story. The one she’d just started. As with most of her stories, it had taken on a life of its own and was taking her in new and unexpected directions. She loved the idea she’d had this morning. What if her protagonist was dead? Then she could...
Becky’s attention was rudely awakened by high pitched screams coming from the main entrance. Her eyes shot towards the screams. People running in all directions. Two bodies on the floor by the main door. The security guards!
A tall man, a gun in his raised right hand, forced his way past Henry, who was doing his best to stop him. The gunman cut a strange and unlikely figure in his oversized southwester and stetson. The wild west right here in London.
Becky steadied herself against the bar stool next to her. She looked on in horror as the man pointed his gun just inches from Henry’s temple. People ran across the foyer shrieking and jostling for the main exit. The man said something to Henry. Then, seconds later, BANG! Henry face up on the marble floor, a red puddle forming around his head.
Becky could almost smell the fear in the some of the writers’ eyes. More screaming, more shots fired. Only Adam and Nick were still busy writing. Their noise-cancelling headphones keeping them in their own dramas, oblivious to the real drama unfolding before them. The bandit, as Becky now thought of him, stopped immediately behind their table.
He fired three shots in the air. Adam and Nick bolted upright in tandem, their mouths frozen in disbelief. The bandit’s eyes scanned each of the nine writers up and down in turn. ‘Call yourselves writers do you?’ he yelled, ‘Well fucking well write then. Now!’
The writers all did as they were told. Typing anything and everything. One of the women paused. The bandit’s gun pressed against her temple. ‘I said write!’ He stood on a chair to get a more commanding view. ‘Just two rules: 1. I’m the hero of the story, and 2. Stop typing and you die. Got it?’ He fired a shot in the air, ‘I said, got it!?’
The writers screamed out a collective ‘yes’ and banged away at their keyboards.
Security and police worked to quietly funnel people out of the building, but a large group of people remained lined up along the mezzanine balcony, mesmerised by the spectacle below.
The bandit circled the tables to look at the text on the screens, his gun touching the back of each writer’s head in turn. He was about to move on to Nick’s screen. Becky strained but could just about make it out:
The gunman is Causcasian, tall and well built.
He’s dressed like a cowboy.
He is about thirty or thirty five.
He is calmly eyeing his next victim.
He was tweeting a running commentary of the hold up as it happened. A good idea, but the bandit would kill him if he saw it. She’d just have to distract him. She knocked a few glasses off the bar. It did the trick. In the few seconds it took the gunman to look away, she was relieved to see Nick close his Twitter feed to reveal a screen full of text.
The bandit bent down to read Nick’s story. He congratulated him on it. ‘Very good’ he announced. ‘Nice set up. Just make sure to pay it off!’ He moved on to his next victim, one of the newer writers, a woman whose name Becky couldn't remember. She looked like a deer caught in the headlights as she froze for a second, sensing his dangerous presence behind her. His gun was just an inch or two away from her head.
‘Stop typing and you die!’ the bandit pressed the nozzle into the woman’s hair, and then used it to scrape a line down the back of her skull. Becky reeled back as the gun blasted. She watched the woman fall to the floor.
All eyes followed the bandit’s every move. Repulsed but at the same time transfixed with the gruesome scene playing out before them.
Becky sneaked unseen behind the bar and crouched down for cover. She opened the cupboard under the till and her hand felt for the shotgun she knew was lying at the back of it. She slowly stood up, aimed her gun, and took a clear shot at the bandit.
For what seemed like an eternity everyone stood or sat frozen in time and in silence.
The bandit lay motionless on the cold floor, blood pouring from his head.
Becky looked across at the other bodies randomly scattered across the bar and foyer. She banged her gun down on the bar counter. At this signal the dead bodies all came to life. The two security guards, Henry and the woman writer came over to the bandit, now very much alive, and holding hands they formed a line and all took a bow.
Becky bowed along with them and the mezzanine audience burst into rapturous applause.
‘What the hell?’ Adam shouted at no-one in particular. The bandit approached him and offered him his hand to shake. ‘Sorry if all this scared the living daylights out of you,’ he explained as he shook Adam’s hand, ‘Becky finally got funding for her play and the only way to perform it was to make sure you writers weren’t in on it. She wanted real reactions.’
Adam, Nick and a few of the other writers looked across at Becky who was still bowing her thanks to the audience, all of whom, they now realised, had been in on the ruse from the start.
‘Well, thanks for that Becky’, Nick called out, ‘I really thought we were all going to die!’ Becky smiled sheepishly and came over to Adam and Nick. ‘Oh, I don’t think you’ll be angry with me for too long’ she replied, ‘You got some great writing done, didn’t you?’
‘Yeah, nothing like a gun to your head to get those words on pages!’