An Honest Deception

An Honest Deception An Honest Deception

Status: Finished

Genre: Literary Fiction

Details

Status: Finished

Genre: Literary Fiction

Summary

A respected businessman runs for election when cutbacks threaten his local hospital. Initially idealistic he becomes caught up in the temptations of his new lavish life.

Summary

A respected businessman runs for election when cutbacks threaten his local hospital. Initially idealistic he becomes caught up in the temptations of his new lavish life.

Chapter1 (v.1) - An Honest Deception

Author Chapter Note

A respected businessman runs for election when cutbacks threaten his local hospital. Initially idealistic he becomes caught up in the temptations of his new lavish life.

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: November 24, 2014

Reads: 442

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Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: November 24, 2014

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Due to my position in the Health Department, alongside my role as an MA, I was spending most nights in my grace and favour house in the capital Campton.

When I did make it home, the Assembly was what I most wanted to discuss.  Alison resented this and also felt I had lost interest in our children.

My friends growing up I no longer had time to keep in touch with.  I was on first name terms with the elite of our society and stories of saving to bring children on package holidays, reminiscing on school days and gossiping on old acquaintances seemed small to me.  We no longer had much to say to each other.

I shut the emptiness at home out by socialising with my new colleagues, discussing how we were going to make the world a better place, fixing our welfare dependent broken society.

Everything changed one typical day when I was in Campton to discuss a change to the Health Department, to introduce a cap on the number of hours after care we would provide to new mothers if there were no birth complications.  It was a change I would not fully in favour of, but we had a budget and needed to priorities our resources. 

After our meeting, I had lunch at the Ivory Restaurant with some of my colleagues before heading to the Assembly Bar.  At around midnight, Claire the undersecretary to one of my colleagues, asked if I wanted to share a cab home with her.

I took her up on her offer.  We were heading in the same direction and it made sense to share a lift.

Claire was a beautiful girl who many of my colleagues lusted after, jesting like pubescent teenagers when she was out of ear shot that she seemed like a game girl.  I did not join in the banter.  I respected her opinion.  Claire and I were friends, we had the same Northern roots and a shared a similar sense of humour. 

On the way home we sat close together in the back seat.  I could feel Claire’s breast on my leg as she stretched across me to open the window on my side. 

 ‘Would you like to come in for a night cap?’ she asked as we approached her apartment. 

I swallowed hard.  I knew the potential implications of what Claire was asking, but with the alcohol I had consumed, the detachment I felt from my family and the boost to my ego that someone as attractive and engaging as Claire was interested in me, made it almost impossible to say no. 

Besides, my house was an easy 15 minute walk from Claire’s apartment.

‘Only for a quick one’ Claire said, removing any doubt from my mind.

‘I hope you have some more Champagne up there?’ I laughed.

‘Of course I always come prepared' she smiled.  The double entendre was not lost on me. 

We stopped all too quickly.

When the driver opened the door for Claire I leapt out as well. 

‘I will find my way home from here’ I said, passing a large tip to the driver.

‘Fuck it I can’t find my keys’ Claire said as she bent down to search through her bag. 

I stared at her athletic body, in her figure hugging white dress.  She reminded me of Alison when we met nearly 20 years previously. 

‘Found them’ Claire said eventually, looking up and catching me ogling her.

Inside Claire’s apartment was open plan, with high spec marble worktops and stainless steel appliances leading to her pine floored sitting room, with only a dark brown leather sofa and matching single seat to one side and a square glass coffee table.

Claire handed me an unopened bottle of Champagne and set 2 glasses on the coffee table.  I sat on the edge of the couch and unwrapped the foil, before unscrewed the wire cage and popping the cork.

I nervously poured two glasses.  Claire lifted hers and left the room.  When she returned she was no longer wearing her shoes.

‘My feet were killing me wearing those high heels all day’ she said, as she sat on the couch beside me with her feet up, her knees pointed towards me. 

Over time as we emptied the bottle of Champagne we found ourselves sitting closer and becoming more tactile.  I could feel the sexual tension as the bare skin of our arms touched. 

I asked her about her life and why someone as attractive and clever as she was did not have a partner.

She hadn’t met the right person, she was not easily impressed she said.

Claire wanted to know all about my life.

I told her I was the youngest and only boy of three.  I had started my own successful Accountancy practice, becoming wealthy when I sold my offices to a developer during the property boom and how I had decided to get into politics due to my anger at my local hospital closing.  I told her that I was more than a decent footballer when I was younger.  With a bit more luck I could have followed a different path.

She seemed fascinated by my tales.  She said I was different from the other politicians, I was not as arrogant, I knew about the real world.  She admired that I had went into politics with a purpose, not like the politicians of today who went straight from their Philosophy, Psychology and Economics degrees.

Suddenly Claire leaned forward and kissed me softly on my lips.  I closed my eyes and kissed back passionately as Claire straddled me, her pubic bone brushing  my thigh.  She ripped off my tie and flung it on the floor before unbuttoned my shirt from the top. 

She kissed my neck and slowly moved down biting and kissing my nipple as her hands drifted around my hairy chest.  She moved her head down further, kissing towards my naval then knelt on the floor and unbuttoned my trousers.

Suddenly the world seemed to stop as Claire put her hands under the elastic of my underwear. 

‘I’m really sorry’ I said as I rolled over on the couch, ‘I’m not sure I’m ready for this.’ 

I did not know if it was the guilt of betraying Alison that stopped me or the thought I might not be able to back up where we had got to with the amount of alcohol I had drank and the thought Claire had probably had a string of lovers, I was unsure if I measured up.

Claire was speechless for a second, then adjusted herself, stood up and knocked back the remains of her glass of Champagne, placing it firmly on her glass table. 

‘I’m really sorry’ I said, standing up also.

‘It is all right, I understand’ she said, averting her gaze. 

I said nothing, buttoning my shirt and trousers.

‘I’m sorry’ I eventually said again, picking my tie off the floor. 

As I staggered home in the drizzling rain, my shirt half buttoned, I started to re-evaluate my life.  I had become like all the other politicians I know, detached from the people who had asked me to serve them, not caring about their silly letters and menial problems, worse than that I had stopped caring about my family. 

Next morning I awoke thinking of what had happened the night before.  I was embarrassed for leading Claire on then running away.  There was no avoiding her and the awkward situation I had placed us both in.  Everyone in the bar the previous night will have known we had gotten a ride home together and will be talking about us, just like I had gossiped on lots of them. 

Then I thought of Claire’s long flowing blond hair, her large full breasts, not depressed or deflated by time, her naked writhing above me.  I took my semi erect penis in my hand and tugged vigorously, vibrating until I exploded over my chest. 

I loved being an MA more than I had envisioned.  It was an adrenaline rush that people recognised me as I walked around Bremerton.  But as it got closer to election time again, the one issue that kept cropping up again and again was what was happening with the hospital.  They said it was slowly being run down, until it was no longer worth saving.

I started to get letters from cranks, saying I was no different to other politicians. 

What people didn’t understand was that I too was being frustrated in my attempts to find a long term concrete future for our hospital.  It was impossible to set up meetings with senior party members on this issue.  Everyone had full diaries, instead sending mandarins to placate me, only agitating me further.

Eventually, Lorenzo Bianchi our party Chairman agreed to meet me.  He talked me through all the things eating up our resources and how it would be hard for him to make any promises, without making cutbacks in other areas.

‘I only agreed to join your party to help save the hospital’ I said firmly.  ‘I will arrange a press conference outlining all the Modern Democrats broken promises to me and leave immediately’

Lorenzo looked at me sternly.  This was not a time the party could afford negative publicity.  ‘I will set what I can do’ he said sombrely.

 

Secret Society

 

A few days later I was stopped in the lobby by a small red headed man, whom I had seen around parliament from time to time.  He introduced himself as Roman Bodwin. 

He came straight to the point, ‘I hear you are looking for help to save your hospital?’ 

I nodded my head ‘Yes. I am.’

‘Are you familiar with the Four Pillars?’ Roman asked.

I shrugged my shoulders ‘yes.’

I had heard the jesting in the Assembly bar, they must be members of the Four Pillars, someone would say when referring to politicians that seemed to quickly rise through the ranks, without mud ever sticking to them.  Surely it was only an old boys club, where people with similar interests got together to talk about politics, the arts and compared wines.

‘Would you be interested in joining?’ Roman asked.

‘Not particularly’ I said dismissively. 

‘It will help to save the hospital’ Roman said firmly.

‘Really?’

‘The Four Pillars, bring together a very powerful group of people, with a wide range of knowledge and influence.  A lot of key people in politics, business and industry are members.’ 

I did not like the implication Roman was making about this unelected group.

‘Don’t worry they are only interested in the overall good of the country.  They have unique, exceptional skills’ Roman continued sensing my uneasiness.

I thought for a moment.  It made some sense for a group of like-minded people to meet up.  I was prepared to do anything to save the hospital, being in this group could at worst not do that aim any harm.

‘If you feel this will help then I am happy to join’ I said.

‘Very good’ Roman said.

To reassure myself as I still felt uncomfortable I asked again ‘do you really think it will make a difference to saving the hospital?’ 

Roman nodded his head.  ‘I guarantee it.’ 

I could tell he genuinely thought this group had some power.  Whether he was delusional was for debate at another time, but I was now at least curious about the society.

‘What if I want to leave?’ I asked. 

‘No one has ever wanted to leave once they join the Four Pillars.’

‘Ok’ I said hesitantly.  ‘What do I need to do to join?  When, where do they meet?’

‘We meet at 10:30pm on the first Tuesday of every month.’

‘I am in town Tuesday’ I said, wondering what I was letting myself in for.

Roman nodded ‘we meet in the old Assembly building.’ 

He reached into his back pocket, handing me a small business card.  It had a map on it, of the Assembly including the old Parliament building.

I looked at the card confused.  I had seen the old building many times when walking through the Assembly.  It was steeped in history.  Monumental decisions like the abolition of slavery, the right of vote and the social housing act had all been agreed in this building.  It was also the place where Premier Minister Benjamin Wolfzberg had been assassinated.

‘Go straight through the double doors leading to the gardens, at the back of this build.  You will see the back door of the old Assembly.’  Roman said pointing to the old building on my card.  ‘Turn left as soon as you enter.  Take the first turn on your right.  You will see an opening with a flight of stairs about 20 meters along on your left.’ 

I looked at the map as Roman spoke.  I could not see the stairs on the map.

‘There is an elevator on the landing at the top of the half flight of stairs.  Press the button to go down. 

I will meet you there.’ 

 

Society

 

10:20 Tuesday

 

I stepped out onto the gardens and walked along the path, to the slightly ajar heavy wooden door. 

When I entered the old building, I turned left.  My feet clip clopping along the moonlit marble corridor.  I took the first right as Roman had instructed and walked purposefully towards the gap in the wall I spied ahead on the left. 

As I walked up the half flight staircase leading to the elevator landing, I defensively stared up at the magnificent stained glass shepherd in a white tunic grasping a golden crook, whose eyes appeared to be following me. 

I pushed the button on the wall next to the elevator and the door slid open immediately. 

I stepped inside, the door closed and the lift jilted before quickly descending. 

When the door opened again, I was surprised to see Roman standing waiting for me. 

‘Follow me’ he said.

I could see out of the corner of my eye a dim light glowing on my right as we entered a small side room to the left.

‘Take off your clothes and put this on’ Roman said handing me a rough brown robe.

I stared at the garment, saying nothing.

‘Are you ok?’ Roman asked, reading the bewilderment on my face.

‘Yes’ I said, subconsciously shaking my head. 

I had come this far.

Roman left the room, closing and locking the metal door.

Should I be doing this I wondered. It was too surreal. 

No, I thought replaying Roman’s words.  I guarantee it will make a difference

I sat on the bed and slowly undid my shoelaces, before taking my shoes and socks off, placing them under the bed.  I removed my trousers, shirt and tie, laying them neatly on top of the bed. 

Did they really expect me to take off everything? I wondered. 

I placed the itchy robe over my head and sat on the squeaky metal bed.  I stared at the bare stone walls, wondered how such a place could exist below a parliament like ours. 

The sound of the door unlocking shook me out of my hypnotic state. 

Roman was back.

‘Come now they are ready for you’ he said.

I followed him out into the flickering candlelit chamber, our large shadows criss-crossing in front of us.  

As we walked I looked cautiously across at the figures dressed conspicuously in black, on rows of ornately carved wooden seats.  I was astonished to see colleagues from both the lower and upper house, some of which I had spoken to earlier in the day.  There were also familiar figures from the world of media, the clergy and industry. 

I had run my own accountancy practice and knew the value of networking, but this was on a whole new level. 

I felt naive for not realising these important members of society would work together.

Roman motioned for me to kneel in front of the small stone altar. 

The ceremony soon began, when a high priest like deity, dressed in a white robe, with a long hood entered.  He slowly walked towards the altar, his arms folded across his chest, chanting a mantra in a language I did not understand.

Another door opened. 

My jaw dropped as another masked member entered the room, carrying a large red rooster.  It’s blue and green plumage lit-up in the dim light.  It was clearly alive, shifting uneasily, tilting its vision through 360 degrees as it scanned the darkened room.

I was paralyzed at what I hoped was not about to happen and looked tentatively behind me to see if anyone else was uneasy.  Everyone stared ahead, not looking me in the eye as they sensed my questioning of them. 

A hard black leather case was placed before the high priest.  Inside it had some ancient looking surgical implements.  The priest lifted out a sharp knife with a hook at the end and put it to the roosters’ throat.  It kicked its feet frantically.  Blood splashed into the waiting chalice below.  Soon the kicking became less vigorous and the roosters breathing more shallow.  It slumped over as the blood slowly stopped running. 

The lifeless bird was placed on the altar, before the high priest turned to face the congregation, raising the chalice high above his head.

The chalice was walked to the back of the room.  Each member took a sip from it and passing it along.

I was aghast as the chalice was lastly handed to me.  I paused as I looked at the dark red blood inside, before taking a small sip of the still warm congealing blood.  As I swallowed, I looked over at the rooster lying motionless on the altar.  I wondered how many others were as uncomfortable as I was with this ritual. 

Roman placed a hand on my shoulder and whispered for me to follow him.  He walked me back to my room. 

As the ceremony continued outside I got dressed hurriedly. 

When Roman re-entered he talked me through the 4 Fs that made up the pillars:

Faithfulness to our fellow members at all times

Fortitude and determination to achieve our aims

Furtiveness, absolute secrecy was paramount

Fearlessness, when following our convictions

 

He gave me a demonstration on society handshakes.  A fellow member will rub their index finger along my palm and squeeze gently the knuckle of my middle finger with their thumb.  If they are higher up in the society they will squeeze the knuckle of my ring finger.

‘What if someone squeeze the knuckle of my little finger?’ I laughed nervously. 

‘You are unlikely to ever come into contact with anyone so high up in the society’ Roman said dismissively. 

He opened the door to my room again and gestured for me to follow him back towards the old elevator. 

As I left I glanced towards the flickering light.  The ceremony was continuing in our absence.

 

 

Saved

 

I heard nothing more about the hospital for several months. 

Covertly I began asking questions, despite promising not to.

Unexpectedly, one day I was given a call from our Chairman’s Private Secretary, requesting me to meet him. 

‘Come in and take a seat’ Francis said squeezing my hand tightly.  ‘I have a proposition for you that I think you will be interested in.  How would you feel about chairing a committee charged with health budgeting for the North East region?’

‘I would be delighted’ I said, thinking quickly and failing to check my delight.

I knew this was a great opportunity, but also potentially a poisoned chalice.  I could redistribute funds to save our hospital but I would have to find ways to make savings elsewhere. I would have to take the flak for any cutbacks. 

I played back Charles Gourmand’s resignation speech in my mind but I had kept the promise I had made to my family and to my constituents to do everything in my power to save the hospital.  If I never did anything else useful in my life at least I had achieved this.

 

Challenge

 

I stood aghast looking at my tv screen.  I could not believe what I was seeing.  At a hastily arranged press conference on his front lawn, Premier Minister Francis King was announcing his resignation. 

It did not make sense.  We were 18 months away from another tight election battle.  Francis was still a relatively young politician at 64. 

Daniel Carling our Foreign Minister was the clear and obvious favourite to be our countries next leader.  He was an evangelical captivating speaker, with clearly thought out principles.  A regular church goer, who preached on the importance of two parent families, advocated a zero tolerance approach to crime and the need for the unemployed to take personal responsibility in getting back to work.

I was greatly surprised when I was encouraged to stand against Daniel by some of my colleagues.  I was a nonconformist, who did not always follow the party line.  I had also only been in the Assembly 10 years, half of those in opposition. 

I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a sacrificial candidate but I had seen in the past how losing challengers had raised their profile and been given senior positions after a leadership battle.  I had heard a rumour that I may even be made the new Health Minister after the contest in a reshuffle. 

I had nothing to lose.

I decided to put my name forward.

Even Daniel and his supporters did not seem perturbed that I was going to contest the leadership, the party did not want to be seen to be handing over the reins without there being any opposition.  If anything my standing might steal the thunder of weightier candidates who may be thinking of challenging Daniel.  He was happy to be challenged as long as the challenge never amounted to anything.

The election process ran over several months and slowly things started to change as it became clear I did have support within the wider party. 

Daniel was less popular than he or others senior Minister’s thought or wished.  As I spoke to party members a recurring theme I heard was that they thought Daniel was aloof with a patronising air they could not warm to.  From my own encounters with Daniel I had an uneasy sense that he was currying favour, ensuring to be on the right side of the higher echelons within the party at all times.

He certainly had friends in high places but struggled to engage with less senior party members who did not come from the same aristocratic background he came from.

I was younger and seemed to be thought of as more modern, a straight talker, who more than a lot of politicians had some principles.

I had helped my father in his shop since I was 7 years old and watched and listened as he talked to people as they entered his shop.  I observed how important it was for people to feel they had a connection with him.  They could easily go to the latest out of town supermarket for their groceries.

I built up my own accountancy practice from the same technique and principles that I learned from my father and instinctively knew that networking and communication was what I needed to be successful in this world.  I have been told more than once I have a good way with me, that I am charming even with an honest face.  I sometimes wondered if deep down I was more cunning than other people.  That my awareness that everyone was linked to everyone else somehow implored me as much as possible to at the very least fake interest in what people had to say. 

Perhaps I was less sincere than anyone else.

 

Controversy

 

One Sunday morning my wife Alison brought a newspaper up to me as I lay in bed.  I sat up to see a picture of me passed out drunk, at a 3 day festival I had attended when I was a student.  A partially made up kiss and tell on me and an ex-girlfriend accompanied the photo. 

The timing of this article annoyed me.  It had the potential to derail the steady inroads my team had made in persuading my party colleagues that I should be the candidate to take our country forward.  

Paradoxically, instead of hurting my ratings with the general public, my popularity continued to grow.  One poll even suggested that our party would gain a 3% higher vote if I was elected instead of Daniel, enough to swing re-election in our favour.

On the following Wednesday I was given a note from my personal assistant, requesting me to attend a meeting with Commander Sebastian McLaughlin at his office at Whitecastle, at a suitable time of my convenience. 

Sebastian was a very senior Modern Democratic party official who was vital to the running of our party.  He was a close associate to some very wealthy donors that keep our party in the black at election time, when we like all the mainstream parties have to spend millions in advertising campaigns.  Nothing important ever happened without his say so.  He had a strong hand in controlling the party whip to ensure that it retained its discipline and maintained a consistent line, ensuring that important votes went the Government’s way.

On my way to Sebastian’s office I observed Cynthia Matthews walking in the opposite direct towards me.  Cynthia had first been elected on the same day as me and we had become firm friends.  She had a deep tan and slightly burnt forehead.  I joked that she needed to lay off the sunbeds for a while.  She smiled as she told me that she was just back from a 2 week break with her family.  She wished me luck with my meeting with Sebastian.

I had never had a private meeting with Sebastian before and was unsure what the meeting would be about.  Was Sebastian going to press me on the stories in the weekend papers?

As I approached the end of the corridor I could see Sebastian’s office ahead.  He had his name engraved with a list of titles on a large gold plate mounted on a varnished mahogany board beside his office. 

I knocked gently on the door which was slightly ajar, then pushed the door open gently.  Sebastian was standing facing away from the door looking deep in thought.  After a moment he sensed my presence and turned around. 

‘Good evening, nice to finally get to talk to you’ he said in a slow clipped voice.  ‘I have been meaning to meet with you and have just not gotten time.  I am sure you know all about me.  I have been working for the Modern Democratic Party for more than 30 years.  I have been an Advisor to 5 Premier Minister’s and am only a phone call away from some very influential people here and on the international stage.’

I nodded my head. 

Looking around the room it was obvious that Edward Spencer was his favour Premier Minister.  He had a large imposing portrait of him hanging prominently on the back wall.  Edward, more than any other politician in the past 20 years divided opinion.  His strong arm tactics had been pivotal in breaking up the unions, driving us into a free market economy where profits dictated pay scales.  Introducing tax breaks for large corporations, making our country more attractive to invest in and championing the concept that if businesses were making money then everyone will get a piece of the inevitable bounty that this produces. 

Some have said that this was the time when inequality in our society truly took hold.  Were the rich broke away from the rest of society.  It is a complex question with no definitive answers.  Like everything else in politics, as in life there are winners and losers.

‘What are your priorities, if you do become Premier Minister?’ Sebastian asked.

I began to explain my ideas on educational reforms that I hoped to air at our upcoming party conference when I noticed Sebastian staring into the distance.  I paused until eventually Sebastian looked at me startled. 

‘Anyway’ he said regaining his composure, ‘I have to meet with a very significant donor in a few minutes and I wanted to ask you before I go what your views on Presia are?’

‘Presia’ I said surprised by the question.  ‘I haven't given it enough thought, from what I understood they are very aggressive.’ 

Sebastian nodded. 

‘But we seem partly to blame for inflaming this conflict.  We should try to find a diplomatic solution if we can to everyone’s benefit’ I added before Sebastian had a chance to speak again.

Sebastian’s face instinctively dropped and his eyes narrowed, piercing through me. 

I pursed my lips, smiling to myself.  Sebastian reminded me of my old Geography teacher from middle school, who had once told our whole class we were all simpletons, that were not worthy of him wasting his breath trying to teach.

‘What about the position of Foreign Minister if you are elected?’ Sebastian asked.  ‘I would like to make a suggestion that you place Evelyn Nugent in this role.  He has a lot of experience in this field and has been a vital ally during the Marshlands conflict.’ 

‘I am not sure’ I said, feeling I was being pushed into a corner.

I had not solidified any position yet.  It was pointless trying to finalise a new government when it was far from certain I would win the party vote. 

‘Perhaps Cynthia Matthews would be someone who might be suited to a role that required diplomacy’ I said, her name only coming into my head from my earlier conversation in the corridor.

Sebastian looked me up and down, weighing up the situation, he did not seem impressed with this idea, or that I had not bowed immediately to his suggestion. 

‘I had a meeting with Cynthia on Tuesday and she indicated that a role in the Education Department would be something she would be more interested in’ he said. 

I looked Sebastian in the eye but I did not say that I knew he was lying to me.

‘Please excuse me, I have to leave to attend my next meeting’ Sebastian said breaking the silence. 

‘Ok I am sure we will talk again soon’ I said.

I put out my hand and Sebastian shook it again. 

‘Yes I am sure we will’ he said. 

I turned and walked to the door, glancing at Sebastian before leaving, closing the door silently behind me. 

I had not really known what my meeting with Sebastian was going to be about, though I wanted to make a good impression.  I felt deflated after meeting with him. 

 

Premier Minister

 

Many congratulations on being the new first Minister.

Would it be possible to meet in my office at 3:30 to discuss the new cabinet?

 

Regards

Sebastian

 

I had promised a new broom, to freshen up our cabinet but I did not want to rush into any changes until I had a complete team in place.

I sent a note back informing Sebastian stating I was free to meet at my new office at 12:30 if that was convenient.

Very well the note back to me said.

A few minutes before 12:30 there was a knock at my door.  I assumed it must be Sebastian.  Instead when I opened the door I was met by a cheerful looking lady with a hoover at her feet.

‘Do you mind if I come in and clean your office?’

‘Will it take you long?’ I asked, looking around my large office.

‘I will only be a few minutes.’

‘I am expecting someone soon, if they come before you are finished you will have to finish later.’

‘That sounds like a plan’ she smiled.  ‘Is this your new office?’

‘It is.’

‘You must be someone very important.’

I laughed that she did not know who I was.

‘I’m the new Premier Minister.’

‘Oh, my husband will be so excited I was talking to the Premier Minister.’

I laughed but struggled to stop myself agreeing with some of my colleagues, who scorn that it is the uneducated masses we have to pander to, that we are relying on to vote us into the Assembly. 

 ‘Can you leave us now, you are paid to clean.’

We both looked around to see Sebastian standing in the doorway.

‘I will be speaking to your manager, have you not been told you are not to talk to the staff when you are cleaning these offices?’

The cleaning lady scuttled out the door.

I felt ashamed that I did not stick up for her.

‘There is someone I think you should meet’ he said.

My face dropped as a seated pale faced man hooked up to a drip appeared seated at the door, accompanied by a male nurse.  I recognised the face as Viscount Mason.  He had not been in front line politics since he had a severe stroke nearly 20 years previously. 

The male nurse wheeled him into the room and left without speaking. 

Viscount Mason put his hand out and shook my hand weakly. 

Sebastian spoke again, ‘we wanted to know if you have decided on a new cabinet?’

‘I have mostly but I have a few positions still to finalise’ I said.  My gaze shifted back and forth between the two men. 

I felt uncomfortable discussing this in front of Viscount Mason.

‘Have you thought any more about the position of Foreign Minister?’ Sebastian asked.

‘I have.  I will announce this with the rest of the cabinet.’

Sebastian looked at Viscount Mason ‘some of our benefactors would not be happy if you replaced Evelyn and would like a veto on any new candidate.  They have spoken of switching there allegiances.’ 

I shook my head. 

‘I will not be swayed, we need sponsors but this is not how politics should work’ I said staring at Sebastian.  ‘If a person or an organisation want to donate to the Modern Democratic Party fantastic but not if it means they have a hold over our party.’ 

‘Do you remember the motto inclinent maiori sapienti Viscount Mason croaked raising his hand to suck into his oxygen mask, ‘and that we saved your hospital’.

I had been so used to shaking hands with member of the society that his weakly squeezing my ring finger while he shook my hand had not register with me until that point as that of a senior cog.  I understood the groups motto meant, bow to greater wisdom, but I was not sure there was any greater wisdom in this case. 

I also resented Viscount Mason’s insinuation that they had saved our local hospital, as if I had no control or part in this.

The easiest thing to do was to go along with their wishes but if anything I was more determined than ever not to keep Evelyn Nugent in this position.

‘Is there anything else you would like to discuss’ I asked crossly.

Sebastian turned bright red.  They both looked like they wanted to give me 50 lashes. 

Viscount Mason said nothing instead ringing a small bell.  His carer came in immediately and wheeled him out the door.

Sebastian followed only stopping at the door, turning around looking like he was going to say something then turning again and was gone.  

I need to curtail him I thought. 

This was the most surreal meeting I had ever had.  The last thing Viscount Mason needed to worry about was the future direction of the Modern Democratic Party. 

I made a mental note that I was going to curtail Sebastian.  I was the Premier Minister and I would not be spoken to like a subordinate of him again.

I had made it clear that I was going to reform the way politics was run in this country.  I wanted to cut our parties ties with third party special interest groups, with builders, health providers, defence contractors and all the associated conflicts of interests that arrived with them.

 

Getting tough

 

It was obvious we were drawing up plans for a conflict with Presia.  Even though Mahsoum Albulavi, the supreme leader of Presia had cautiously welcomed my appointment and invited me to Presia to talk over our differences.

I wanted to try this diplomatic route, to engage with the regime.  I had seen how things had gone wrong in the recent Marshlands War with 10,000 of our soldiers losing their lives and countless thousands of the native population displaced or buried.  We had spent trillions in this war and for what? We had not liberated anyone.

I needed to hear for myself why they were developing their nuclear capacity, when they had so much oil and gas beneath the ground.

I arranged a meeting with our Chairman Lorenzo Bianchi to discuss my passage.

‘I think it is best to leave it, we already have diplomats engaging with the regime’ he said. 

It was obvious to me that an element of our party only wanted a face who looked a certain way, that the public trusted but who did what they were told.  I was not going to be that face. 

‘I am going to Presia to see for myself.  If we needed to go to war to get rid of this despot then so be it but I want to engage with the regime first.

‘I trust you will do everything in your power to assist my passage’ I said forcefully to Lorenzo. 

‘Very well’ he said, ‘we can talk on your return.’

 

Presia

 

I arrived in Presia by private jet, where I was met on the runway by a group of Senior Diplomats, who showed me to my chauffeur driven car. 

My driver looked around 50, with wrinkly sallow skin, a bald shiny head except for a patch of hair on top like it was on its own little island. 

He did not speak as we set off in a convoy. 

It had been a long flight and I was glad to be going to my hotel. 

I got lost in thought hypnotised by the barren desert, interrupted every few miles by tins huts joined by washing lines with clothes hanging off them.  Emaciated, bare chested children stood watching as we passed by. 

What where their thoughts on us I wondered.

Why had a country like this, so rich in minerals, have citizens living in such poverty?  No matter what difficulties we have in our country we did not have anyone living in these conditions.

‘Do you mind if I ask you your name?’ I suddenly felt compelled to ask the driver.

‘My name is Pirzilakmi Al Zhilzi but you can call me Pirzi’ he said in a clear voice with a slight accent.

‘Nice to meet you Pirzi, you can call me Rob’ I said.

Pirzi nodded.

‘What is it like living in Presia?’

‘It is ok’ Pirzi said looking in the mirror as he answered.

His answer seemed clipped.  I wondered if he was afraid to say anything negative. 

‘Do you have a family?’ I asked.

‘Yes, I have a wife and 2 daughters.  I had a son who died when he was 6 years’ he said.

‘Oh I’m really sorry.  Do you mind if I ask you what happened to your son?’

‘It happened so quickly, one day he was full of life and totally healthy, then the next he did not want to leave his bed.  We did not have mobile phones then.  When I came home from work my wife met me and asked me to come quickly.  I ran to my sons room, he was sweating and had a rash on his chest’.  He stopped for a second to compose himself then continued, ‘I picked him up and we went to the hospital but they would not give us any drugs, they were only available for 10,000 on the black market because of the sanctions against our country.’

He stared at the road ahead as he drove.  I thought of my own son, how I would cope with the helplessness of what happened and wondered if he blamed himself for not doing more.  I would do anything to get the money I thought to myself.

‘I’m sorry’ I said, sure no words from me could help in any way. 

‘It’s ok, we have to go on’ Pirzi said.

‘What about your daughters, what do they do?’ I asked changing the subject slightly.

‘They are at University, one is studying medicine and the other physics’ he said lifting his head, ‘someday I hope they will go away and start a new life in your country.’ 

 ‘Do you not hope that your children will stay, that things will be better?’ I asked, sad that he wanted his daughters to leave there home.

‘That will never happen’ he said with a hint of anger in his voice, forgetting himself for the first time.

‘What about your wife, is she still alive?’

‘She is, but since our son died she stays in bed all day, her dreams died that day with Kzan.’ 

‘Why does your leader want to start a fight with us? He must know he cannot win.’ 

He looked at me like I had said the stupidest thing he had ever heard, like I had asked him if he would like to drive his car into the next large rock we came across.

‘Who is picking a fight with whom?  We just want to be left in peace to live our lives without fear, without being a pawn, to be given a chance to have a better future.’  He stopped himself.  ‘I am sorry I am just a driver, forgive me for my outburst.' 

‘Don’t be sorry, it is good to hear real stories away from all the political speak I hear all the time.  You are a very strong man’.

I squeezed his shoulder. 

He smiled at me sadly. 

 

Hotel

 

As we arrived at my hotel, I reached into my back pocket and gave Pirzi the 100 note I had been keeping for emergencies. 

‘Thank you’ he said.

I stepped out into the hot humid air.  I was immediately struck by the magnificence of my surroundings, only magnified by the dilapidated conditions I had seen earlier.

The next morning after breakfast I was shown to our awaiting entourage.  I looked into the front seat as I entered the back of the car and I could see I was being picked up by Pirzi again. 

We were on our way to meet Mahsoum Albulavi. 

‘Good morning’ Pirzi said.

‘Good morning’

I felt we had built up a rapport.

I had been thinking about our conversation from the night before.  ‘What do you think of Albulavi?’ I asked.

He seemed to trust me more now and spoke freely. 

‘Albulavi was like one of the dirty street kids you have seen along the road, he had nothing.  Like a cornered Lion he was ready to fight all comers when the revolution started to overthrow the tyrannical Overlords who controlled our country.  He was ruthless and focused and was immediately picked out as a leader even though he was younger than the other fighters.  He was given a high position in the Security Department of the Government after the revolution.  As different people disappeared and moved aside he found himself reaching towards total power.

‘Soon he made the fatal error of not doing what he was told any longer, he started to renege on deals and seek other markets to sign deals, more competitive deals giving other powerful nations a piece of the vast pie.  Of course he also kept a large slice for himself.  He overestimated how much power he had as Supreme Leader and underestimated the power of the hidden hand that got him there in the first place.  He cannot halt what he has started, he has lots of money but he has powerful enemies, enemies that would kill him in a second if he did not have all the security he has round him now.’ 

I was glad I had made the decision to go to Presia, to get some new perspectives.

We talked some more on tribalism and paranoia with the administration until we slowed down as we arrived at our destination.

‘Good luck, please try your best to stop our country from having to fight another war’ Pirzi turned around to face me and said. 

I could feel the faint hope he had that we would not impose more sanctions on his broken country, or worse still start another war.  I could also see the sadness in his eyes, the sadness of 1,000 promises broken throughout his lifetime when new regimes came and things did not get any better.  He was not wishing me good luck, but his family and all the people of Presia.

 

I entered a room through large double doors where I was met by the President.  He gestured for me to sit on the large soft ornate embroidered chair. 

I sat beside and at right angles to the President in a seat that exactly matched his except it seemed to be a couple of inches shorter.  Beside the President was his translator who sat beside him in a chair that looked like it had been brought from the dining area.

‘Would you like something to drink Sir’ a waiter asked as I sat down.

I shook my head ‘no thank you’.

‘What are your aims?’ I asked after some small talk.

I stared at Albulavi as he talked forcefully while his Interpreter nodded.

‘Our aims are that we be left to run our country, to be let live in peace so that everyone can prosper from this great gift we have been given beneath our feet.’ 

 ‘So why then do I see so many people living in poverty in tin houses with this great gift that you speak of?’ 

 ‘With crippling sanctions our economy is not able to grow, it stagnates, instead shrinking to nothing.  Mothers are dying from infections after childbirth because of the sanctions imposed on us’ Albulavi replied through his translator. 

‘We are a pawn, a small pawn for you and your friends’ Albulavi shocked me by saying without using his translator. 

He had not been like I had expected at all.

He was right, I had seen it all outside. 

It seems that the poorest countries in the world are those with the best resources.  If only 5% of the revenue of Presia went to the people, they could all live prosperous lives but with punitive sanctions and corruption at all levels, the people at the bottom were the ones to suffer.

I flew home with my head jumbled.

 

Sanctions

 

‘Nice to see you made it back in one piece’, our Chairman Lorenzo Bianchi joked.  ‘How was your trip?’

‘It went well.  I learned a lot’ I said. 

I was only back one day and was still jetlagged.

‘What did you think of Albulavi?’ Lorenzo asked, his lips curling up into a smile as he spoke. 

I thought for a moment then said ‘a man just like you and me.’ 

He rolled out a large scroll ‘I want to show you some documents that I have received from our Intelligence Agencies that show that Presia are trying to import Uranium to create a nuclear reactor’ he said rolling out a large document that he had been holding. 

It consisted of some satellite images of several circled industrial buildings in a desert.  It had the words nuclear reactor and rocket launcher underlined with arrows pointing in various directions.

 ‘What is this supposed to mean?’ I asked Lorenzo.  No one could clearly and decisively point out anything of interest from these grainy pictures alone.  The photos could just as easily have been a satellite view of a desert Fresh & Easy Supermarket. 

 ‘This is irrefutable proof that Presia is building a nuclear reactor.  We need to impose more severe sanctions immediately.  He is a tyrant, did you not see how he treats the citizens of Presia?’ Lorenzo said rolling the papers in his hand and shaking them in my direction.

‘We will have to get something a bit more firm than this before we agree to do any more harm to this country’ I said sternly.

I was surprised at Lorenzo’s hostility.  I thought of the taxi driver who had lost all hope for his country and of the devastation at not being able to get basic medicine for his dying son.

‘I certainly saw how the ordinary people lived’ I said forcefully, ‘what do you think the effect of imposing more sanctions on these people would be?’ I asked. 

‘Sanctions are the only thing that will make Albulavi sit up and take notice’ Lorenzo said.

‘No we will not be pushing for more sanctions.  Sanctions will only cripple the already vulnerable people of Presia.  Maybe if we try to help the people of the country back up on their feet again it will not be such a breeding ground for extreme politicians’ I said. 

Lorenzo’s looked incredulous.  We were both getting more exasperated the longer our conversation went on.

 

 

aaaaaaaaaaaaa

He could not countenance my views and left, I assume to gather his thoughts. 

I needed to gather my thoughts also.  I had not expected to express such feelings on this issue so strongly to Lorenzo.  I had been given a new perspective on the casualties of conflict and this was something that I felt needed to be said.  We also needed to make cutbacks to our budget.  We had already been forced to make sacrifices in education, health and our transport projects.  Making military cutbacks was my next target.

 

 

I arranged a meeting with Evelyn Nugent.  The agenda was ostensibly to discuss possible ways we could cut our deficit, but this meeting would also help to cement my views on Evelyn.  I had not yet made any cabinet reshuffles and wasn’t sure where Evelyn fitted in.

Evelyn arrived at our meeting with a thick file. 

‘You know why we are here’ I said.  ‘Our deficit is growing out of control and we need to find ways to rein it in.

‘Yes’ Evelyn nodded opening his file.  ‘I have come up with a number of ways I think that we can cut our budget.  Our health care spending could be cut back by giving businesses more incentives to offer private health insurance to their employees.  If we increase our university fees by seven percent, we would bring in a further billion to the economy ...’

‘Do your notes have anything in relation to cutting our military spending?’ I said, interrupted Evelyn.

‘I think it is a good idea in principle, but not at this time’ Evelyn said.

‘I think now is the perfect time to cut our budget.  In fact I would like you to look into which areas we can cut our spending.  A five percent reduction in defence spending would reduce our deficit by much more than all the other initiatives you have come up with up to now.’

Evelyn did not say anything.

I did not want our discussions leaked without putting the cutbacks into context.  Everything we had discussed was only a draft idea at this stage. 

Evelyn nodded his agreement. 

I left the meeting happy.  I was finding my feet and beginning to transmit my influence as Premier Minister. 

 

Threats

 

My appointments diary said I had a meeting with a civil servant from the Transport department named James Gillespie.

He arrived at my office a few minutes before our meeting was due to start, and asked if I would mind coming with him to another room, where he had laid out his plans.

‘Ok’ I said reluctantly.

I followed James down the corridor, entering a room where he had laid out his documents on the large table.  I looked at James confused.  I could not see why he could not have had the meeting in my office.

‘It is chilly in here’, I half joked, sitting down.

‘It is’ James said shyly.

He did not look like a high powered civil servant in his cream suit, which matched his whiting blond hair.

Without any further small talk, he used his detailed notes to give a lecture on proposed transport reforms, to cut congestion in the Capital.

Although what he said was interesting, especially the idea of creating a parking zone and reintroducing a tram network, looping around the capital, the changes were still at a very early planning stage.  They should have been filtered through the various transport departments before coming to me.

‘Could you send me a report and I will look over the details.  I have another meeting in a few minutes I need to prepare for’ I lied, making a mental note to talk to my PA about how she screened people who came to meet me.

James looked at me and said in a very low voice 'you need to be careful'.

‘Sorry’ I said leaning in.  I wasn't sure I had heard him correctly.

He whispered even more softly ‘you have made some powerful enemies by trying to cut spending on defence and work out a diplomatic solution with Presia.’

‘How do you know about these plans?’ I asked incredulous.  It had only been one day since I talked with Evelyn.  Our discussion was supposed to have been kept quiet.

James gestured with his hand to speak more quietly.

‘How do you know about the government plans?’ I asked, unsure why I was whispering, ‘and what do you mean be careful?' I added.

James lifted a large yellow file block from the floor, setting it in front of me, opening up the front cover.

The file inside had multiple coloured tabs, each of which had a politicians name on it.

‘What is this?’ peaking open the tab on Lorenzo Bianchi our chairman.

James did not say anything as I slowly lifted the printed A4 sheet, disbelieving what I was seeing.  A man that looked like Lorenzo dressed in black suspenders was bent over, his hands handcuffed as two topless young women smacked his reddened exposed behind.

Of all people Lorenzo seemed the last person that would be interested in this type of thing.

‘Surely these documents would be of interest to the press?  I have seen politicians who have had their career ruined for this type of thing’ I said looking up at James.

‘Precisely, Lorenzo is trapped.  These documents ensure that he will never step out of line.’

I scanned down the list until I found a section on Philip Brundle our Education Minister.  Philip and his wife Yvonne were personal friends of my wife Alison and I.  It was voyeuristic but I was too curious not to see what was in the file. 

I read the first few lines then closed the file forcefully.  Angry I had been duped. 

‘How do I know that anything in this file is true?  It is very easy to alter a photo or make up a story, none of these people can defend themselves.’

James pursed his lips and my heart raced as I realised I had not seen a section with my name on it.  He seemed to read my mind and reopened the file to a section at the back without a name on it.

It had my life in minute detail.  My birth certificate, school reports, past relationships, internet searches, phone and text conversations, how much money I had in my bank account and where it all came from where all laid out in minute detail. 

James passed me another document.  It had a photo of my personal assistant Monica Gordon in the top corner.  The note highlighted that there was a possibly of a personal relationship developing. 

I have to admit I sometimes got the impression she wore low cut tops for my attention or leaned closer against me than she needed to as she reviewed my timetable.  But it was all harmless as far as I was concerned.

‘Be very careful.  How could you ever be objective on any subject if this was held over you?’

‘Do you understand what I am saying?’ 

I nodded my head quietly ‘those who seek change must come with clean hands’ I said.

Though there was embarrassing detail, there was nothing I would be afraid of my family finding out about I thought.

James put his hand into the file again and lifted out some photos. 

‘I wasn’t sure whether to show you this’ he said handing the photos to me.

I gulped as I silently flicked through the photos of us sitting together chatting inside the cab and more of me waiting while she looked for her keys to enter her house.

My mind raced trying to remember the conversations we had in the car and to all the other times I had taken a cab and the conversations I have had. 

There had been a hidden camera recording everything.

‘Nothing conclusive could be gleaned from that one encounter.  A recording system set up to monitor Claire’s house was found to be faulty when it was recalled’ James said averting his gaze momentarily from me.

I was struck dumb by what he had just told me and was ashamed thinking of all the people who knew my dirty secret. 

‘You have so much power in your hands and every move you make is under surveillance to see if it can be exploited in any way’ James said.

I stared at the floor as James spoke. 

‘It is possible someone may soon try to blackmail you with this very soon but I promise you this is all they have.  Have a reason ready why you were inside Claire’s house.  ‘Be very careful who you talk to and what you say.’

 ‘One more thing’ James added, ‘Your top drawer in your desk has a hidden compartment.  If you pull it out you will not see anything but if you push something onto the right side at the back it will click open.  It has an unregistered phone hidden inside it with only one number.  Use it if you ever need to talk.’ 

I nodded my head, unsure what to say.  There were so many questions I wanted to ask but my mind was scrambled.

 

Meeting Sebastian

 

I was sitting at my desk reading over my notes for the next day’s parliamentary question time when I heard a knock at the door.  I looked up to see Sebastian standing in the doorway.

This must be it, I thought to myself.

‘Can I have a minute?’ he asked.

‘Sure, come in, take a seat’ I smiled, ‘what can I do for you?’

‘I am not sure how to tell you this but there is something I think you should know.  The Sunday News are threatening to run a story on you.’

‘Oh yes and what would that story be?’ I asked as casually as I could.

He reached into his jacket pocket, folding out a sheet of paper.  ‘Don’t worry we are doing our best to stop it.’

‘We are all men of the world.  This is your private life and it is no one else’s business what happens outside the Assembly’ he said as he handed me a folded photocopied version of some of the photos I had seen earlier.

If I hadn’t talked to James I would have panicked but my instincts told me to trust James and what he said about there not being any more incriminating evidence.  Even if what he said was incorrect, denial was my best option for now.

‘There is nothing in these photos.  Am I not allowed to make sure that a colleague gets home safely?’ I asked, using the best poker face I could muster. 

There are libel laws in this country about publishing unsubstantiated rubbish’ I added handing the sheets back to Sebastian.

He lifted the sheets and folded them back into his pocket.

‘Is there anything else you wanted me for?’ I asked.

‘No, no, that is all’ Sebastian said, his voice fading as he spoke.  ‘I will let you get back to what you were doing’ he added.

 

 

Danger

 

All pressure to introduce sanctions against Presia had stopped.  Perhaps people where coming round to my way of thinking.

Strangely I had been thinking about James when I heard a knock of my door.

‘Sorry to disturb you but I have made some changes to the transport reforms we discussed last time we met.  Do you mind if I go over them quickly?’ he asked.

‘Sure’ I said.  ‘Take a seat’.

James closed the door carefully and took a seat across from my desk. 

He placed a note in front of me then began talking about transport.

I lifted the note and began to read.

 

You are in immediate grave danger.  An attempt is going to be made on your life tonight. There will be a bomb placed under the passenger side of your chauffer driven car.  It will go off on your way home from your meeting at the Glitz Hotel.

PLEASE TAKE THIS THREAT SERIOUSLY AND FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY.

When you leave the hotel ask your driver to stop when you reach the underground station on Marvouragh Street.  Get out and head for platform 2.

 

‘I will be in touch soo


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