ZDNet Australia is proud to bring you a serialised version of Phil Dobbie's novel The Incumbent. A new chapter will be published here as part of his blog each week on Tuesday. You can also buy the entire book by clicking here.
The Prime Minister was thinking for a moment about priorities. Although he'd like to be in Kyrgyzstan hobnobbing with political dignitaries, there was the economy to consider. He was only too aware that an efficiency drive at VastTel could well bring on the total economic collapse of his country. He didn't want to be remembered as the leader who fell asleep at the wheel. More to the point, he didn't want to lose his job. His mortgage was too high and he knew, if he wasn't Prime Minister of Australia, he would be out of work. He was almost certainly unemployable.
Duff's other big concern was his Finance Minister, Ted Holton-Lacey. There was this deep sense that he was planning something. Was he going to have a tilt at leadership of the party?
He tried to put those thoughts to the back of his mind as the two men grappled with the vexing question of how they would stop the country tumbling into total economic disintegration.
'Twistie Buffet is the VastTel CEO,' said Holton-Lacey. 'I have reason to believe that he is the one planning efficiency measures.'
'Well, we can't let it happen,' said Duff, somewhat agitated. He hated it when things went wrong. He particularly hated it if it meant he had to do something about it.
'What do we know about this Buffet character?' asked Duff.
'Not much,' confessed Holton-Lacey. 'We never hear from him and he never seems to do anything. Until now he's been the perfect man for the job.'
His mortgage was too high and he knew, if he wasn't Prime Minister of Australia, he would be out of work. He was almost certainly unemployable.
Duff wondered what might have changed. Had Buffet been reading some management books? He doubted it. They rarely did any good. There was a wealth of ineffectual advice out there written by motivational speakers with heavily gelled hair who couldn't manage their way out of bed before lunchtime. They wrote books with titles like How to be a Superstar Manager Without Lifting a Finger or Why it Pays to be Decisive, Mostly. Sometimes someone would read these books, generally a relative of the author, but mostly they were just given away at seminars en route to becoming landfill.
'Well, we're going to have to get rid of him,' said Duff, envisaging a convincing retirement package.
'Yes, we have to keep him quiet,' agreed Holton-Lacey, hatching a far more sinister plot in his mind. 'There's always my Redundancy Plan.'
That seemed a bit harsh to Duff. They'd never made anyone redundant. It was counter to everything they stood for. He'd imagined a sternly worded letter — not too stern, mind — and a chat over a coffee, in which the subject of retirement was broached.
'I'll get the secret service onto it,' said Holton-Lacey.
'Really?' said Duff. 'That sounds a bit extreme.'
'They're good at getting rid of people.'
'Yes, but don't they kill people?' He didn't like it, but he appreciated that sometimes assassinations were necessary for the protection and betterment of Australia — foreign agents, political agitators, nauseating quiz show hosts, and so on.
'They don't just kill people.' Holton-Lacey had been working closely with the secret service in the formulation of his mysterious Redundancy Program. 'They can be quite diplomatic sometimes,' he said, although he hadn't seen any evidence himself.
'Well, in that case, no harm in talking to them,' said Duff, flicking through his phone list and realising he didn't have them in his contacts.
'Do you have their number?' he asked Holton-Lacey.
'Sorry, no,' he lied. He really wanted the Prime Minister to leave it all in his hands.
Duff decided to resort to directory enquiries. VastTel's voice recognition system kicked in and asked him to clearly speak the name of the person or company he was trying to contact.
'Secret service,' he said, astounded to hear an immediate response.
'The number for ... the Australian Secret Service is ... FreePhone Assassinate ... that's 277 27746 283.'
'Incredible,' said Duff, who had never seen the directory service work so well.
'Putting you through now,' said the voice, before connecting the Prime Minister to a family owned joinery firm just outside Gosford. Duff knew it had been too good to be true.
It turned out that the father and son operation got a lot of misdirected calls and they were using them to secure custom in the manufacture of hand-made coffins. It didn't take long to figure out that most of the calls intended for the secret service would result in a death somewhere along the line. So they'd gather as many details as possible before confessing that they weren't really the secret service, but they could help with the clean-up and disposal of bodies. They would normally try to expedite things with a special half-price offer if the assassination was finished by the end of the month.