The Incumbent: Chapter 24

It's an intricate web of murder plots, government conspiracies and rampant tanning. Oh, and the future of the entire nation.

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.

Jimi Jones was a little disoriented by his experience in front of the VastTel board. These were the most elite businessmen he had ever met but, rather than being intimidating, the experience had unearthed a colossal oratory capacity from within. He had a rare ability to spout complete crap, yet entrance an audience and make them determined to better themselves. He was destined for a career in senior management. Or politics. Or public speaking. Wherever bullshit was in demand.

She had been a TV journalist for a couple of years after puberty, now she trained people on how to play journalists at their own game.

It was an art form that Adam Willis had perfected for his daily breakfast show on Radio 2IQ, and his audience lapped it up. A lot of the time they didn't really understand what he was going on about, but they mistook his inane ramblings as the workings of a great mind sharing prodigious thoughts that would ultimately change the world. To them, it was as if a wise philosopher like Plato or Socrates had been given a breakfast shift; assuming they had known who either of them were. All they knew of the great philosophers was that they were foreign and, therefore, not to be trusted.

Willis wasn't expecting any great philosophical discussion from the debate between Damien Woodburner and Sydney Musson. It was set to be an electrifying piece of radio and Willis knew his listeners would be absorbed by it, especially if Musson carried through his murderous intent, provided no one used any big words.

In preparation, Woodburner's PR team had been training him extensively in the art of media technique, so he didn't fall foul of the common tricks used to back guests into a corner, but it hadn't been going well.

'This company has an atrocious record and the board is largely to blame,' the media coach had said, taking on the role of interviewer.

'F**k off. Do you think you can do any better?' Woodburner had replied, clenching his fists and drawing his arm back in a threatening manner.

'No, not the right answer,' the coach snapped. 'Do not take the bait.' She explained how he should respond briefly to the question and then turn the interview in another direction, so he could take more control.

'For example,' she said, 'I'm sorry you feel that way Adam, but let's look at a few facts.' Then she pointed Woodburner to a crib sheet full of impressive statistics that could be peppered through the interview at the appropriate time.

'Now, let's try again.'

The coach knew the tricks. She had been a TV journalist for a couple of years after puberty, now she trained people on how to play journalists at their own game.

'The company has lost money for the last 13 years. That's far from an impressive record. How can we have any trust in the board or management of your company?' she asked.

'Look,' Woodburner replied sharply, turning to his crib sheet, but not feeling inclined to pull out any of the carefully selected messages chosen for him, 'you are starting to get on my nerves. Just shut the f**k up!'

The media trainer dropped her head into her hands. It was incredible that the son of a media tycoon knew so little about how journalists worked. Of course, the Woodburner family didn't care how their own hacks operated, so long as they reported stories exactly as they were told.

'I'm warning you, I'm not a man you want to get on the wrong side of,' Woodburner continued. 'I come from a very powerful family and we have a way of silencing our enemies.'

The trainer interrupted him. 'Don't make threats on live radio. Someone might be recording you.'

They both paused for a moment before agreeing that the approach wasn't working. Woodburner wasn't enjoying it, he was sure it was making him look like an idiot. He reacted the only way he could, an almost instinctive response, he sacked everyone in the room.

'All of you. Get out of here!' he said, before singling out the coach. 'Look at you. You are far too old to be working. What are you, 47 or something? What would you know? Get me someone younger, an actress, in a short skirt. We can practise in the car on the way there.'

'And you, whatever your name is,' he said, motioning to the woman who had been his personal assistant for the last five years. 'Get that Jimi Jones boy to come along to the radio station tomorrow. I'd like to talk to him more.'

'But you just sacked me,' she said.

'Well you're un-sacked till tomorrow. Get Jones sorted then sack yourself.'

And so the group disbanded, many in tears. Most of them were VastTel employees. They never in their wildest dreams expected they would ever lose their job. A number of them were certain there was a stipulation in their contract that said that would never happen, no matter what.

Still, Woodburner didn't care. He liked the feeling of power. But he hated the idea that Adam Willis might wield even more control on the Australian population. That's why, dutifully, the next morning, he got into the back of his stretch limousine, bound for the 2IQ studios.

'This is business girlie. And that's for men. Shouldn't you be at the hairdressers or something?'

He was accompanied by Josie Pymblewart from the successful suburban soap opera Vacant Plot. Woodburner was pleased to see her. She was one of his favourites, although he knew he had to be very careful how he treated her. She had invited him to her birthday party last year and, although he was a little unsure of her age, the fact that pass-the-parcel and musical chairs were part of the entertainment was a clear sign that she was younger than she looked.

Woodburner was a little taken aback to see Jimi Jones was also sitting inside the car, looking slightly nervous — not at all like the great orator who had driven the entire organisation into a frenzy of productiveness.

'You wanted to see me,' Jones said. 'Your secretary suggested I share your car for the ride to the radio station.'

'Oh yes,' said Woodburner, annoyed that it would cramp his style with Pymblewart, but also aware that it could prevent any improper activities that could later be pursued through the courts.

'Perhaps you could help evaluate my media style on the way.'

'Sure,' said Jones.

'Fire away,' said Woodburner to the young actress, who had grabbed the scripts from the media department, with instructions to stick to them word for word. Woodburner sat back, smiling and enjoying the audience.

'It seems VastTel is reacting badly to the emergence of new competitors. Is that how you see it?'

'Ha!' he yelled in response. 'What would you know, you little tart?' He spat the words out, then paused for effect, watching the youngster cower and tremble. 'This is business girlie. And that's for men. Shouldn't you be at the hairdressers or something?'

Pymblewart was used to abuse, but it seemed a little less convincing coming from Woodburner. His father was a terrifying creature, almost the personification of pure evil. The son looked as though he was acting the part, and very badly at that. His personality had emerged from an inordinate amount of exposure to commercial television with little real-life experience and, unable to form an identity of his own, he had borrowed two-dimensional characters from daytime soaps.

Woodburner turned to Jones to ask how he thought his response had worked out, but found the young man was a little distracted. He had noticed through the rear-view mirror that a black sedan with darkened windows had been following them from the moment they left the VastTel building.

'Are we being followed?' he asked.

He was ignored as Pymblewart launched another question.

'Are your margins coming under pressure Mr Woodburner?' she asked.

'What would you know about margins you slag,' came the reply, as Woodburner reached for his crib sheet. 'We're at 14 percent now and we expect it to go up, or down, next quarter.'

He didn't know what the numbers referred to, but it seemed a credible enough answer, at least to Pymblewart who had no idea what a margin was, or, for that matter, what percent was, or a quarter. As for slag, she'd been called it so often by senior executives in the television industry she had assumed it was a term of endearment.

'Quiet for a moment,' insisted Jones. 'You should know there is a car behind that I'm sure is following us.'

Woodburner couldn't find Jones' line in the script. He looked up. So there really was a car following them. It was a relief. All this media training was growing tiresome. It was also a little pointless, he decided. No one ever dared give a Woodburner a tough interview — if they did the family just bought the company then sacked everyone involved. He was fairly certain his dad could bring anyone down, even Adam Willis.

'Followed? Well, that doesn't surprise me,' said Woodburner, leaning back in his seat. 'I'm very rich and famous. I'm worth following,' although so far no one was following him on Twizzer. Not one. He looked toward Pymblewart hoping she would be impressed. She still looked terrified, clutching on to a toy bunny.

'Oh don't look so shocked darling,' he said, 'come on, let's have a shag.'

Somewhat embarrassed Jones said he'd be happy to walk from this point, but his comment was ignored in the passion of the moment. A curious display of fumbling followed that, even to Jones with his limited experience, didn't seem right. It was as though Woodburner had no idea how to have sex. For a start, he didn't remove his trousers. But why would he? His diet of daytime television had been subject to the rigorous censorship of the nineties, so it never occurred to him that sex ever ventured further than a little ruffled hair and a pash that managed to avoid contact of the lips.

Pymblewart closed her eyes and braced herself. Woodburner senior had a reputation for having slept with practically every woman in the organisation, from the top to the bottom. So far her bottom had managed to escape his clutches, but it seemed the young heir had picked up his father's ways. So she was somewhat stunned, and a little relieved, when, moments after they had embraced, she found Woodburner sitting upright, his belt fastened, smoking a cigarette.

'How was that for you, darlin'?' he asked. He'd lost some of his educated accent, instead sounding like a Surrey schoolboy trying to do an Aussie accent; always painfully embarrassing for all concerned. Pymblewart was too confused to say anything, and Woodburner didn't bother waiting for her to answer. Instead he turned to Jimi Jones. The young actress was finished with; slung aside, like a used wash cloth.

'Now Jones,' he said. 'I want you to know, I have great plans for you.'

Jones hoped it didn't involve sex. His bottom wasn't ready for it either. Even if the comment was, as Woodburner had intended, entirely work-related, Jones still had concerns. What exactly would those 'great plans' entail? He'd quickly formed a low opinion of Woodburner and thought he'd rather be in charge of his own destiny than to kowtow to such a delusional idiot.

A man was leaning out of the side window, dressed entirely in black, holding what could easily be conceived as a rocket launcher.

At that precise moment, though, he was more concerned about the car behind them. A man was leaning out of the side window, dressed entirely in black, holding what could easily be conceived as a rocket launcher.

'Get down!' he yelled, pulling Woodburner towards him. In an instant the young heir found his head buried deep into Jones' crotch, scarcely able to breathe.

'Really!' said Pymblewart, seeing the two men intimately entwined, 'that explains everything!'

Woodburner pushed his head free. He wasn't ready for sex with another man just yet, even if it was extremely fashionable in entertainment circles. Needing air, he stuck his head out of the window and glanced back to the mysterious black car that was trailing them.

'Who the hell?' he said, seeing the rocket launcher aimed in his direction.

The man behind the weapon looked surprised to see Woodburner. He consulted a piece of paper, spoke briefly with someone in the car, then pulled the equipment back inside and the vehicle turned sharply to the left, even though there wasn't a road junction for several hundred yards. Instead it ploughed into a self-assembly furniture warehouse.

It had been a disastrous assassination attempt for the men from the secret service. No one knew who the character in the car was, but it wasn't Buffet. And now their cover was exposed and they were trapped, waiting for emergency services to arrive and remove Part A from Part C, that was holding the men firmly under Section D. It could take hours to figure out how to get them free.

The Incumbent is Phil Dobbie's first novel and these excerpts have been used with his permission. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. To purchase the entire novel in digital format, click here. It is also available in printed format ... for more details click here.

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