The Standalones

Chapter One

Ken Preston

29 May 2024

Silhouette of a rock band against a spotlight and the words The Standalones

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Chloe Martino-Yamaguchi dropped her bulging holdall on the station floor and wiped her arm across her forehead. Why did it have to be this hot on the day she was meeting her new band mates for the first time? She’d wanted to make a great first impression, and instead she was going to turn up all hot and sweaty and looking like something the cat dragged in.

Rail commuters bustled past Chloe, paying her no attention. That would change one day soon. Chloe had known from the age of ten when she had seen Suzy Quatro on Top of the Pops that she was going to be a pop star, and she was going to be huge. A couple of years from now and she wouldn’t be able to stand anonymously at Euston Station; she would be mobbed by a crowd of adoring fans.

She could see it now, a sea of bodies being held back by Chloe’s bodyguards, hands outstretched to catch a fleeting touch of their idol. Chloe would smile and wave at them, maybe even choose one or two lucky fans to be allowed to chat with her for a moment. They would have brought copies of her latest single with them, obviously, and she would sign them with a flourish.

Finally, her bodyguards would whisk her off to the car waiting outside the station. She would have a concert to play that night and she had to have time to prepare and rehearse. But none of this having to carry her own gear around any longer; no, that would all have been delivered to the auditorium already, along with her personal belongings to the hotel.

She would spend the rest of the afternoon preparing for her concert, checking with her entourage that everything was ready and exactly as it should be. Then, that evening, she would step out onto the massive stage, the spotlights on her, and be greeted by the cheers and welcoming roar of a capacity audience.

Chloe could see it all now in her mind’s eye, she could feel the love for her emanating from her fans as she launched into her first song—

A body stumbled against Chloe, knocking her shoulder and yanking her from her daydream.

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“Sorry!” Chloe heard someone mutter, already scurrying away.

She shook her head, trying to dislodge the daydream and bring herself back to the present. If she kept on drifting off like that, she was going to have an accident or get lost. Fame and fortune were going to have to wait a little longer.

The station tannoy announced the latest arrival on Platform Five, and the bored male voice echoed around the station. Chloe’s shoulders ached from carrying her bass guitar on her back. She had to sit down for a moment or two, just to rest her aching shoulders and weary legs.

Straining to peer through the mass of commuters scurrying like rats through the station, Chloe searched for a chair or bench to sit down on. The crowds were too deep, too packed together, and Chloe wasn’t tall enough to see over their heads.

Why don’t you just sit down here? Chloe looked at the bulging holdall on the floor. If she took her bass guitar off, she could sit on the holdall and hug the guitar to her. She would be like a boulder in the middle of a fast-flowing river, but that didn’t matter. At least she could have a breather for a couple of minutes.

Chloe unhooked the guitar case straps off her shoulders and pulled the bass guitar in front of her. She sank down gratefully onto her holdall. Her shoulders tingled with gratitude.

Just a couple of minutes, she promised herself. No drifting away into a daydream about being a pop superstar. She just needed a short rest. Chloe had spent the day on two trains and several tube lines across London to get here. She breathed a sigh of relief, welcoming the brief respite.

Something hit Chloe in the back and then she heard a yell and saw a body flying past her. The crowd parted like the Red Sea, although the man rolling across the station floor certainly didn’t look like Moses.

He jumped to his feet and turned on Chloe. “You stupid woman, what are you doing? You could have killed me!”

Chloe stood up and hugged her guitar close, like it could protect her from this small, menacing looking man. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to trip you up! But really, shouldn’t you have been watching where you were going?”

Wrong thing to say. Even though he was smaller than Chloe, and she wasn’t exactly tall, the man held such an air of menace about him that she instinctively stepped away as he glared at her. His head was shaved and his face, well, it held more than a passing resemblance to a rat.

“Watch where I’m going?” he snarled, and advanced upon her. His upper lip curled back in a sneer, revealing a set of crooked, nicotine-stained teeth. “Count yourself lucky I’m in a rush, or else I would have taken some time to correct your manners, young lady.”

Correct my manners? Who on earth does he think he is?

Still, Chloe said nothing. The last thing she wanted was to antagonise him. Chloe didn’t frighten easily, but this man had a nasty, vicious air about him. She had the feeling that if they hadn’t been in such a public space, this encounter may have turned very ugly indeed.

“I’m sorry, alright,” Chloe said, holding her hands up in an apologetic gesture.

“If I’m late for my meeting, you will be sorry, I can promise you that,” the man said.

He picked up his bag and, with one last glance back, hurried off, disappearing into the crowd.

Chloe sighed with relief. The crowd began moving again, swarming around her. The drama was over and already forgotten about.

Chloe hefted the guitar on her back and winced at the familiar twinge in her shoulders as the straps settled into place. It didn’t matter how tired she was, she had decided, the best thing to do was to get moving again. She certainly didn’t want to trip anybody else up.

What a coincidence though, Chloe thought as she bent down to pick up her holdall. That unpleasant little man had the exact same travel bag as she did.