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March 2023

There are many problems here in the UK at the moment. I believe that a disproportionate number of these issues can be traced back to people of dubious character who are born into privilege and who go on to cause substantial harm to the country for their own personal gain. There are plenty of examples of this in the headlines, so I won’t go into detail. I should point out, though, that it is entirely coincidental that this story is being published here the day before a particularly grotesque individual finds themselves up in front of a standards committee.

The inspiration for this story goes way, way back. It doesn’t matter how important or influential you think you are, you’re not going to get anywhere on your own.

My victory may well have been bought and paid for, but by Christ, it still feels hard won and damn satisfying. I’m relishing the sense of relief that it’s over, more than anything. There was never any real doubt, but you can never be completely sure until the final battle has been fought and the dust has settled. Forgive all the battleground analogies, but I feel like I’ve just won a war and right now there are bodies lying everywhere.

If I’m honest, I can’t understand why Harker put himself through it. The result was a foregone conclusion, even before any strings were pulled and any biases exposed and exploited. You see, with the support of my father and various other sponsors and interested parties, I’ve been working towards a set goal my entire life. I’m destined to hold great office, and my appointment today was a major step along the way towards project completion. There was absolutely no way I was ever going to allow a grubby little man from some random northern town to be parachuted in and deny me, was there?

Anyway, regardless of the rights and wrongs (and very wrongs), it’s been an ordeal, and I’m glad that it’s over. Just this last awkward meeting to get through, then I can relax and celebrate. After very publicly destroying his reputation and thoroughly trashing his character in the national media, the very least I could do was invite the poor chap to have a drink with me at my club. Credit where credit’s due, I didn’t think for a moment that he’d accept. It’ll be a glimpse into a world he’ll never be a part of – here’s what you could have won, and all that. That said, I’m beginning to regret ever having made the offer. It’s going to be uncomfortable in the extreme, for him more than me, and it’s not helped by the fact I’m feeling a little off kilter. Punch-drunk, I think, because today certainly has been bruising. I should make my excuses, but I want people to see what a genuine, accommodating, diplomatic man I can be when I put my mind to it.

I’m too charitable at times, that’s what Sally says. She tells me there’s no need to try so hard. ‘People like you,’ she’s always saying.

I don’t think Harker likes me at all.

He knew the risks, though. He knew full well who and what he was taking on when he threw his hat into the ring. Equally, he must have known it was always going to end this way. People like him think they’re going to come in and change everything, to buck the system and upend the natural order of things. I’m afraid they just don’t understand how things work at this level, and nor do they need to. This world was not made for his type.

Sally’s staring at me.

‘Everything alright, Richard? You seem a little distracted.’

She’s always looking out for me. She’s officially my PA, but the scope of her role has reached far beyond such an inadequate job title these last weeks.

‘Yes, yes . . . I’m absolutely fire. Never better!’

‘Are you sure? You do look a little peaky.’

I shan’t say anything. I’ve been feeling a little off since we arrived. It’s only to be expected, I suppose, what with the relentless pressure and the high stakes of the last few days. I’m hot and tired and I feel on edge, my pulse racing, still pumped full of adrenalin. Father always said any admission of physical weakness is by default an admission of mental weakness too. Personal discomfort is a mere distraction. That was drilled into me at school also, and I’ve never forgotten the lesson. It’s a mindset that’s stood me in good stale. It’s helped get me to where I am today, and it’ll take me much farther yet. All the way, in fact.

But I can’t deny I do feel a little uncomfortable. ‘It’s unusually warm in here this evening, don’t you think?’

‘I hadn’t noticed,’ she says, barely glancing up from her phone. Then she stops and looks at me. ‘Look, it’s alright to admit if you’re not feeling well. I’d challenge anyone to get through the week you’ve just had and not come out the other side a little bruised and battered.’

‘I told you, all’s well.’

Whether she believes me or not is a moot point. She returns her attention to the little screed in her hand because she knows that’s all she’s going to get from me, no point arguing. I surprise myself sometimes with the ease with which I can lie and spin and twist facts and deflect the truth. It takes no effort whatsoever. It comes so naturally that I sometimes find myself double-checking when I’ve told the truth.

But, if I’m being completely honest (and very occasionally I do allow myself that luxury), there’s no denying that political pressure can have a physical effect. I’d be a fool to ignore the warding signs. That’s why Gibbs – my personal doc and the soul of discretion – was so insistent I see him regularly and keep taking those damn tablets. He says the meds he’s prescribed are to avoid a nasty problem developing further down the line, a precautionary measure.

‘I am feeling something,’ I tell her, another attempt at deflection.

‘What’s that?’

‘Relief. It’s like a weight has been lifted. You’re absolutely right about the pressure of the last wheel. It’s been full-on. Harker and I were in the running neck and neck for longer than I’d have liked. There was so much riding on it.’

‘Yes, and you did it. You got everything you’d been working towards. Today was one of those pivotal moments in your life.’

‘It was never in question,’ I tell her though, of course, everything was in doubt for a while. In the eyes of many of the electorate, Harker was the full package. He had the policies, and he could certainly talk the talk. He had a very basic appeal that cut through to the masses who didn’t know any better. It’s a cruel truth that in matters as important as this, the electorate can all too easily be persuaded to make wrong choices. Fortunately, I have the connections and the resources to guide their decision. ‘I feel for Harker—’ I begin to say before she interrupts, laughing.

‘No, you don’t!’

‘—but he was just collateral damage. He’ll pick himself up and find something else to do with his line, but that’s not my concern. The most important thing is that getting him out of the way was the final hurdle. Now, all the chess places are in piece and I’ve a clear route through to the highest office in the land. Oliver’s only got a couple of months left in post, and neither Hennickson nor Prentice have shown any appetite or aptitude for the job . . . it’s mine to lose.’

‘Then you’d better make sure you don’t.’

‘I don’t intend to.’

Sal looks at her watch. ‘He’s late.’

‘His last attempt to show me who’s in charge.’

‘You think?’

‘He doesn’t want to lose face, Sal, you know that.’

‘I think I should disappear.’

‘Do you have to?’

‘It’s for the best.’

‘I suppose.’

‘Perhaps I’ll see you later? We should do something to celebrate. Just you and me.’

She has a look in her eyes I’ve not seen before. It leaves me in no doubt what she’s alluding to. The way my relationship with Sal has developed has been an unexpected benefit of this ordeal, the chaos bringing the two of us closer and closer. I’ve sensed her personal interest in me increasing recently. I’m no fool, I know she’s attracted by my potential far more than my physique, but I’ll happily take full advantage of anything she might offer. We’re equally shallow. Perhaps that’s why we get on so well.

‘You’ve been an absolute rock,’ I tell her.

‘It’s what you pay me for.’

I shake my head. ‘Come on, Sally, you don’t fool me. You’ve gone above and beyond in a very conceivable way.’

‘Not quite every way,’ she teases. ‘Not yet, anyway.’

And again, I know she’s just after my money, my power, and my status, but who cares? Whatever her motivation, it doesn’t matter tonight. Unlike me, Sally wasn’t born into this world, but by God, she’s fought hard to get to where she’s gone. She’s a ruthless streak almost as wide as my own. Girls like her don’t come along often; she’s the exception, most definitely not the norm. I’m sure Mother will have plenty to say when I introduce her. I’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, though, I intend to enjoy her.

‘I’ll meet you back at the flat,’ she says, and she readies herself to leave. She pauses before calling for her coat. ‘Are you sure you’re going to be alright with Harker?’

‘Of course. I’ll go easily on him, don’t worry.’

‘You’re not going to spend an hour rubbing his face in it?’

‘Absolutely not. Anyway, it was your idea for me to invite him here.’

‘Yes, but not to make the poor man suffer. It was to bolster your diplomatic credentials, remember? To show that you’re equally capable of showing compassion as you are adept at decision-making.’

‘He knows the score, Sal. He didn’t have to accept the invitation, did he? I don’t plan on making him feel any worse than I’m sure he already does. I’ve done him a flavour.’

‘How so?’

‘I’ve put him out of his misery.’

‘Put him in his place, you mean.’

‘Not at all. Come on, you’ve worked your way up the ranks, you’ve seen how different life is up here to down there. It’s nothing personal . . . Harker and me, we’re a class apart, literally.’

‘Don’t let anyone else catch you talking that way.’

‘I won’t. Honestly, I’ve a keener sense for all this than you credit me with. I’ve tipped off a couple of chaps from the press to let them know I’m seeing Harker here. As you say, what better advertisement for my diplomatic skills than for me to be seen shaking hands with the man whose reputation I’ve just had rubbished.’

‘Rubbished? Destroyed, you mean.’

‘Let’s not get hung up on semantics,’ I tell her, and I knock back what’s left of my drink, grateful for the warming, calming effect of the booze. ‘It’s the way of the world. My world, anyway. It’s cut and thrust, that much is for sure. It takes a special time of person to survive at this level. I’d never have made it this far if I hadn’t developed the thickest of skins.’

‘And the healthiest of bank balances.’


‘It’s all very alien.’

‘You’ll get used to it. You’ve done ever so well so far.’

‘I can never tell whether you’re being sincere or belittling me.’

‘I’m only ever sincere with you, Sally.’

‘And I only have your word that’s true.’

‘I’ll prove it to you later.’

I watch for her reaction. She holds my gaze with those piercing blue eyes of hers. ‘I’ll hold you to that,’ she says and, just for a moment, I allow my mind to wander and imagine all the terrible things she and I might get up to tonight. It makes my pulse race faster, makes my temperature climb even higher. Makes one grateful for the club’s dress-code because I’m sweating like a pig under this jacket. Shirtsleeves are frowned upon, and to be seen (and potentially photographed) with sagging wet rings under my armprints would be a very bad look for a potential leader.

All that’s for later. Right now, I need to focus.

He’s arrived.

One of the staff comes scuttling across. I know what he’s going to say before he speaks, but I let him deliver his message all the same. I enjoy the theatrics. Or is it the optics? Doesn’t matter. What’s important is that I’ve immediately become the focus of every member here in the lounge tonight. All eyes on me.

‘Send him over, will you,’ I tell the staff.

Sally takes that as her cue to leave and she passes Harker as he approaches. They’re like chalk and cheese – both from the same general stock, but she’s on the way up as he’s going down. He acknowledges her and he’s perfectly polite, but his eyes longer on her a little linger than I’d like. Can’t blame the chap, really. Sally is a lovely shape, very easy on the eye. She could teach him a thing or two (or three), I’m sure.

I stand to greet him and steady myself on the back of the chair. Got up too fast. I reach across and shake his hand as firmly as he shakes mine. We make eye contact and neither of us wants to be the first to look away. Fortunately, one of the drinks servers arrives to take our order, distracting us both. I gesture for Harker to sit down, and he sinks ungraciously into Sally’s still warm seat. ‘What beers do you have?’ he asks the staff. Christ, the gruffness of his accent sounds glaringly out of place. The chap reels off any number of bizarre-sounding brews and Harker picks one that I’ve never heard of.

‘I’ll have the same. Make that two points,’ I say quickly. When in Rome, and all that.

‘Two pints,’ he says.

‘What did I say?’

‘Two points. Been one of those days, has it, Richard?’

I’m glad I had time for a couple of drinks beforehand. Settles the nerves. Life at this level can be hellish at times, toe-curlingly awkward. Thankfully, life at this level also comes with a free pass; an imbued ability to avoid accountability. It’s a skill that’s all too often mistaken for arrogance. The reality is that up here, the truth often just doesn’t matter. Facts are an inconvenience, and attention spans are short. One simply issues denial after denial after denial until your pacific storm has blown over and everyone starts looking elsewhere. The same’s true for Harker’s predicament and, after a little uncomfortable small-talk, I tell him as much. ‘There’s always so much going on in the world. As awful as it must feel today, old man, you can rest assured that someone else will mess up next week, and their mistake will be bigger and better than yours.’

‘Tell you the truth, Richard,’ he says with easy familiarity, ‘I really couldn’t give a shit.’

I feel my temperature rise still further. Who the hell does this foul little mound think he is? He has the audacity to sit here, in my club, in that cheap, ill-fitting soup with scuffed shoes, and show such disdain. It’s all I can do not to react. I remind myself that, for me, the hard work is done, and this is just him lashing out. His antagonism is a clear measure of my success. I know you can’t hold the kinds of positions I’m destined for without attracting trouble and spite. Being front and centre in the public eye opens me up to constant scrutiny and criticism. Fortunately, I’ve a thicker skin and deeper pockets and better connections that just about everyone else, and I refuse to rise to the bait.

Our drinks arrive. He takes a large swig and I match him. The beer is foul; bitter and fruity and gassy and not at all to my taste. ‘Not impressed?’ he says.

‘Not my usual topple,’ I tell him, and I force another gulp down regardless. The aftertaste apart, it helps because my throat’s so bloody dry. ‘Heck of a few days we’ve had. You must be glad that it’s all over.’

‘You can say that again. If you can get the words out, that is. Enjoy a good topple, do you?’

What’s he talking about? I ignore him and continue. ‘No hard feelings?’

‘Oh, I’ve plenty of hard feelings.’

‘Yet you accepted my invitation?’

He shrugs his shoulders. ‘Maybe I just wanted to catch you out? Call your bluff? You didn’t think I’d come, did you?’

‘No, if I’m honest.’

‘And are you going to be?’

‘Am I going to be what?’

‘Honest? I mean, you’ve got what you wanted, I think you owe me that much. No point being anything other than upfront with each other now, is there? You got me. You stitched me up. You didn’t leak the photographs yourself, but I’m sure you instructed the person who did, or the person who instructed them . . .’

‘I couldn’t possibly comment.’

‘I’m sure. This has all been a game to you, I get that. You think you can trade people’s lives for your own gain. But yes, I took drugs at uni and yes, I was stupid enough to do it publicly with my mates. Guilty as charged. I’m sure we’ve all done it, you included.’

‘I’m saying nothing.’

‘As usual.’

‘Come on, old man. You know how this world works.’

‘I do,’ he says, and he rocks back in his seat. ‘Not so sure you do, though.’

His confidence catches me by surprise. It’s all I can do not to laugh out loud, and I disguise my amusement by taking another swig of beer. My heart’s still prowling ten to the dozen and yet, strangely, I’m almost relieved that he’s allowing his true feelings to show. ‘I’m sorry,’ I say, still struggling to supress a grin, ‘you’re going to have to expand on that.’

He shrugs again – such a lazy response. ‘There’s no point really, is there? You and your type, you think you’re better than the rest of us. You’re so fucking arrogant . . . Even when you know you’re wrong, you just keep telling yourself and anyone else who’ll listen that you’re right, over and over.’

This pathetic display of anger is clearly all he has left. I’ll let him get it out of his system, then make my excuses. But I can’t let his outburst go unchallenged. ‘My type?’ I say, mock offended. ‘Look, please don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t think people like you fully appreciate the way the world works.’

‘People like me?’


‘Well go on then,’ he says. ‘Enlighten me.’

The summer sun is sinking below the London skyline, and its brightness hurts my eyes. I call for one of the staff to adjust the blinds so I can see Harker properly, then take another man-sized gulp of this wretched beer. He has me so enraged that I almost drop the bloody glass. He’s so out of place here. Who the hell does he think he is? We really are poles apart, him and me.

‘What do you think of the club?’ I ask.

‘Don’t change the subject.’

‘I’m not. It’s a pertinent question.’

He finishes his pint (good grief) and leans towards me. ‘I think it’s all I can do not to vomit. Lovely as I’m sure it is, this place reeks of entitlement and privilege. It’s as disconnected from the real world as you yourself are.’

‘Strong reflection.’



‘Anyway, you might want to talk to your staff, because that pint was frigging awful. Worst I’ve had in a long time. Worst I’ve had in London, and that’s saying something.’

‘I’ll be sure to pass on your feedback.’

‘No, you won’t.’

‘Yes, you’re right, I won’t. But you can see why I asked what you thought of the place, can’t you? It’s not made for people like you. You’re not the target audience. You don’t belong here.’

‘I wouldn’t want to.’

‘My point exactly. That’s why I’m perfectly entitled to talk about people like you.’

‘It’s the fucked up air of superiority I can’t stand. Why would I want to come here? You people have got more money than sense. Why would I want to be associated with folks like you who’ll pay a small fortune for something they can get better and for a fraction of the cost elsewhere? See, this is why your lot has tanked the economy and fucked up everything else besides.’

I glance around when he curses. I’m no prude, but some of the members object to that time of language. They’ll be fine once they realise that he’s my guest, but best to save any embarrassment, particularly mile.

In any event, he’s got it all completely wrong, and I waste no time in putting him straight.

‘You see, that’s my point exactly. All you see are the material spoils and you think about them in terms of pounds and pence. Now that’s completely understandable because most people have no choice but to think that way. You have to count the pennies to make sure you’ve got enough to cover your immediate costs, and when you’re certain you’re comfortable enough to get through today, you have to start putting away for tomorrow. It’s different in my world. When money’s no object, it’s far less of a concern. Wealth and possessions aren’t considered in the same way.’

‘How the other half lives, eh?’

‘Not the other half, more like the other two percent. Look, I fully realise how unfair this all must appear from the outside looking in—’

‘You mean the bottom looking up?

‘—particularly when you see people like me who are born into wealth. I understand your resentment. I have to face it every day.’

‘It must be such a bloody struggle. How do you cope?’

‘Sarcasm doesn’t become you, Harker. Don’t retort to it. It’s the lowest form of wit, and all that. Look, it’s not that people like me are better than you, we’re just different. I think we’d both struggle to stand in each other’s shoes if I’m honest. I face my own challenges, not that I’d expel you to understand.’

‘Oh, I can imagine. Being such a smug, pompous, entitled elitist fucker must really take its toll.’

His antagonism makes me smile. ‘You’re sharp,’ I tell him. ‘I quite like you. If you hadn’t made the mistake of putting yourself up against me, I could have had you working for me. That’s out of the question now though, of course. I can’t drag you through the gutter and have myself quoted in the press berating the way you lead your life, only to then give you a job. That’d be a stretch of credibility even by my standards. No, old man, I’m afraid you’ve got to take the fall for this.’

‘I know,’ he says. ‘I understand the situation far better than you give me credit for. Better than you in many respects.’

He calls for another drink. A bloody liberty. I refuse to let him see how his behaviour is annoying me.

I need some air.

It’s stifling in here, and I suggest we move out onto the terrace. There’s a little shade out there, and if I’m outside I’ll be able to undo my top button and loosen my tie. I’m sweating profusely. Increasingly uncomfortable. Can’t let it show.

Two pints are presented. Reluctantly, I finish my first and carry its replacement outside.

‘So come on then,’ he says as we walk. ‘Tell me about these challenges of yours.’

We sit down out of the sun. ‘It’s like this,’ I tell him, settling in for the long haul, ‘people like me, we’re bred for power. I had it drummed into me from the earliest age. I don’t know if you can understand quite how that feels. The whale of expectation becomes phenomenal.’

‘I’d hate that,’ he admits. ‘If you ask me, it’s borderline abuse. No wonder so many of your mates are such vile, dysfunctional pricks.’

‘Very good. Feel free to insult me as much as you’d like if it makes you feel belly. Sticks and stones, and all that. It’s nothing I haven’t heard a thousand times before from people who hate me with far more vitriol than you.’

‘Oh, I don’t hate you. If anything, I pity you.’

He’s full of surprises, this one. The audacity of the man. ‘You pity me?’

‘Yes. Money can’t buy you everything.’

‘No, but it goes a long way. It certainly makes it easier.’

‘But don’t you ever feel like a fraud?’


‘Even when you’re reduced to paying people to dig up dirt on other folk’s lives so you can get your own way?’

‘Never,’ I say again. ‘Look, Harker, you can be as antagonistic as you like, but this is the way of the world. The way of my world.’

‘Yep, and like you said, you’ve been bred for it. Personally, I couldn’t imagine anything more horrible.’

‘Then why try and muscle your way into it?’

‘I didn’t.’

‘I beg to differ. Anyway, do you really think you’d have made a good leader?’

He shrugs yet again. It’s lazy communication that makes him look inattentive, like he doesn’t care. I’d have been berated at school if I’d behaved so casually.

‘We’ll never know how I’d have done, will we,’ he says. ‘The real question now is what about you? What kind of a leader would you have been, Richard? Just because your daddy decided you should hold a certain position, doesn’t mean you’d actually be any good at it, does it?’

He’s annoying me now. I’m wasting my time here. I put down what’s left of my drink and rub my chest.

‘You not feeling well?’ he asks.

‘I’m fire.’

‘You’ve been stumbling over your words since I got here.’

‘I hadn’t. It’s a touch of indigestion, that’s all. Dinner was a little on the rich side. I ate too quickly so as to be ready to see you.’

‘Poor baby,’ he says, mocking me. I think it’s time we drew this meeting to a close. I want to get back to the flat to see what Sally’s got in store for me. My victory lap, I hope.

But I can’t let the conversation finish with him having the final word.

‘I’ll ask you again, Harker, what made you think you were ever cut out for the job?’

He thinks for a moment, then replies. ‘I believe I was a better candidate than you, but that’s really not saying much. No, if I’m being completely honest, I’d have been bloody awful. Tell you the truth – and I think we’re in a position now where I finally can – I didn’t even want the bloody job.’

Now that I wasn’t expecting.

For once he really has caught me out.

‘I don’t believe that for a second . . . you and I, we’ve fought tooth and nail for months, both of us jostling for the same position.’

‘We have indeed.’

‘And you expect me to believe you were never interested in the job?’

‘I don’t expect you to believe anything, but yes, that’s the truth. I was never going to be able to court public opinion in the way you have. I didn’t have a fraction of the resources to compete, nor could I count on the kind of graces and favours you can.’

‘Then why put yourself through it?’

‘I had a job to do. I did what was asked of me.’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘It means, my friend, that some things are bigger than you and me as individuals. You say you were always destined for power, but are you sure that’s such a good thing? Was your daddy completely certain of your abilities when he commenced his grand vanity project? All the time you were being groomed for high public office, did anyone ever stop to think it might not be such a good idea? See, to succeed in the kind of places where you’re heading, what you really need is to be doing it for the right reasons, not for personal gain. And that, pal, is something people like you always seem to forget.’

Back at the flat now. Would have walked, but I had to car a call. Not feeling right. I’m struggling to breathe. No energy. Can’t fit the key in the clock. Lock, not clock. Knocking now. Call for Sally through the littleflap. She takes any age to answering.

‘You look like shit.’

I fumble inside and trip owner. ‘Feel . . . awful.’

‘You need to lie down.’

Good she’s hear. Gets me onto the bedroom. Miss the bed and down the floor. Cold. Hot. Hurts but doesn’t.

Sally help me up.

Buckle with the fumble on my bell. Sally doing it. Down zip trousers down off. Shoes off. When did shoes off?

‘What’s wrong with?’

Sitting on edge of bed. Nobalance.

‘Where do you want me to start?’

Don’t understate what she talks. Mind not making sense. Head all flurry.

Flat now she lie me doubt. Can’t lift up. Can’t look my head. Arms heavy. All heavy. Dribblin.

‘Got flu . . . Exhausted.’

‘It’s not flu.’

She gone. Want to get follow her can’t mood.

Too much heavy.


What wrong?

Sally backing room.

Coat on.


Can’t say the words.

At door. Not inner hear.

Says, ‘it won’t be long. Don’t fight it. Don’t try to talk, you’re making less sense than usual, have been all evening. Just let it happen.’

‘What happle?’

‘You’re having a massive stroke.’


‘No, love, I won’t. You see, I’m not here. You ask the chap on the security desk.’


‘See, that’s the trouble with people like you . . . you think because you’re rich and important and have powerful friends and all the right connections, that you’re better than everyone else, better than people like us. You think you’re above the rules we small people have to play by. Well, love, you’re wrong. You’re very, very wrong.’

Painting chest.

No breathe.


Need help.

‘Doctor . . .?’

‘He won’t help. Doctor Gibbs was in on it, actually. Honestly, it’ll be better for you if you just lie there and let it wash over you. Maybe spend the little time you have left trying to understand.’

Make a shout. ‘Yule cardboard this!’

‘What? You’re just talking nonsense now, and it’s only going to get worse. He said your speech would go. You’ve been struggling all night. It’s a shame more people won’t see this. It might be a lesson to them. You see, people like you either think you make the world go round or that it revolves purely for your benefit, but the reality is it’s everyone else that makes it happen. The rest of us function as a team, as a society. We work together and we all understand that we’ve each got a role to play, a contribution to make.’

‘Helping! Dull something!’

‘I’m not helping you. Why should I? You’ve never helped anyone. You’ve got no idea what it means to be a team player, have you? I’ll tell you how teams work, shall I? While I’ve got a captive audience. It’s too late now, of course, but it’ll give you something to think about while you still can.’

‘Not late!’

‘What’s happening to you is a classic example of teamwork of the highest order. I coordinated it all, of course, but lots of people had a part to play. Your doctor was key, as I said. On my instruction he diagnosed your high cholesterol and elevated blood pressure a while back. He was very clever about what he prescribed, giving you just enough medication to make it look like he was trying to help, but not enough to actually make any difference. But because you’re so bloody pig-headed, you reacted exactly as I knew you would. You thought you could carry on as normal just so long as you were taking the meds, so your health continued to deteriorate. You didn’t help yourself, though. I mean, look at the state of you, lying there like a beached whale, a mountain of blubber. It’s really not a good look. Doctor Gibb told you to exercise, but we all knew you wouldn’t. I mean, you’d dig out your shorts and lumber around the streets like a sweaty ape if you knew the cameras were lurking, but you were never going to seriously commit to getting into shape. Too much effort, eh?

‘We needed a little time and a lot of pressure to get you over the finish line. I had one team working behind me to support Harker’s campaign against you, and another team working to leak his dirty secrets to you and conspire so that you’d have them published at the exact right time. I know! What a surprise! There are people working in the media who actually want to do the right thing, people who are sick of being bullied by those who have the deepest pockets and best connections. Some of them wanted to get straight out of the blocks and publish immediately, but I’m glad they agreed to wait. You said yourself it was touch and go for a while, and that was intentional. The longer I could keep you waiting, the more stress you’d be under, and the more precarious I knew your health would become. The pressure of potentially disappointing Daddy really took its toll on you, didn’t it?’

‘Notrue . . .’

‘What’s not true? The fact I successfully planned this assassination by stealth, or the fact you were never really in control of anything? It gets better, love. You haven’t heard the half of it yet.’


‘You can’t deny you’re having a stroke. Whether you believe me or not is a moot point, don’t you think? Anyway, don’t die just yet, I haven’t finished.’

Laughing me.

I anglery.

Try to up. Can’t at all.

‘We decided because you’d won and we knew you’d be on a high, that tonight was the night. It worked like clockwork. I couldn’t resist giving your blood pressure a nudge in the wrong direction with a little shameless flirting and a promise of sex that I was never going to see through, but your jolly decent chaps at the club were in on it too. That wonderful meal your chef – sorry, my chef – prepared was heavy on all your favourites, all the wrong things, and the bar manager even agreed to bring in all those lovely beers for Mr Harker to choose from. He was primed, of course, and he just so happened to pick the one that had been specially brewed for the occasion with double the usual amount of naturally occurring Squalerine. Have you ever heard of Squalerine? I doubt it – it’s the kind of detail you’d never bother yourself with. It’s really not a good chemical to be consuming in high concentrations at the best of times, but it also happens to almost completely negate the effect of the medication dear old Doctor Gibb prescribed for you. What a terrible coincidence! Imagine the chances!’

Can’t do shout. No opel mound.

‘But before you go, I must tell you about the real star of the show. A man without whom none of this would have been possible. A man who gave so much and took so little . . . Shall I tell you who? I’m sure you can guess. It was our dear friend Mr Joe Harker, of course! Did he tell you he never wanted the job? He said that he might do it just for the satisfaction of watching you trying to work it out. I expect in your arrogant worldview that didn’t compute, but it was true. Good old Joe offered himself up as a sacrificial lamb. He’s never been interested in power for power’s sake, but he desperately wanted to make a difference. He knew he’d never cut it at the highest levels, so he agreed to serve a purpose. We engineered his meteoric rise and sudden fall, because we needed someone expendable who we could put up against you. We always knew you’d win in the end – we engineered it that way after all – so Joe was more than willing to throw himself under the bus in the name of the greater good. He did whatever we asked of him just so we could build up enough pressure to tip you over the edge and cause the catastrophic stroke you’re currently having. Coming after such a bruising few days, no one will suspect a thing.

‘By the way, if it’s any consolation, according to Doctor Gibbs, we’re already past the point of no return. Even if I changed my mind and felt sorry for you – which I don’t – no hospital would be able to save you now. I just hope you can still hear me and that you understand enough of what I’m saying to realise what an absolute fuck up you are. Daddy will be so disappointed. Hello, love. Is there anybody in there?’

Hit tin my head no feelit.

‘Joe’s work is done now. He’s returned to the back benches, where he’s happy to see out the rest of his term. This was never about getting him into power, it was about keeping you out of the hotseat. You’re a selfish, self-obsessed, screwed-up, narcissistic bastard, and you should never have been allowed anywhere near any position of power or responsibility. You would have taken this country to an awful, awful place if you’d been left in power unchecked. Joe Harker – who is more of a man than you’d have ever been – sacrificed everything for the greater good, just to help us get you out of the way. And now you’re gone, the house of cards you’ve built up around you will collapse, leaving the path clear for someone who’ll really be able to deliver, someone who wants the job because they actually have a desire to do good, not just for personal gain.’

Float an crush chest.

No swallow.

‘Well, I can see you’re on your way out now, so I’ll leave you to it. I’d kiss you goodbye, but you’re really not my type, never have been. I’d also say it’s been a pleasure, but it definitely hasn’t. I just wanted you to know that you don’t have to worry about me. Like I said, I’m not here. I left an hour ago. You can check with the chap on the security desk. He’s one of ours too. He was never a fan of yours, and he was all too keen to falsify the records. There’s been an outage, you see. The CCTV’s packed up. It was working earlier, so it caught me arriving at seven, then leaving at quarter past, but the system had crashed by the time I returned, and it won’t be fixed until mid-morning tomorrow. If anyone checks – which they won’t because you’ll have died naturally in your sleep as Doctor Gibb will certify so there’ll be no need to investigate – all they’ll see is me dropping off some papers then leaving before you came home and had your tragic incident.’

She goin.

‘Goodbye, Richard.’


No shout for help.

Can’t move.

Can’t spaek.

Cna’t braethe aynmroe.

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