The Incumbent: Chapter 31

Summary: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.

After the radio show, Musson was taken away in an ambulance. Willis asked his listeners what he should do with a man who had pulled out a gun with intent to use it. The audience was split between capital punishment and castration, their standard response to most crimes. It provided for a lively debate in the last half of his program, during which Musson was smuggled out the back of the building for his own safety. From there, the ambulance hurried him back to the relative peace of Double Bay.

As his psychiatrist, Whimplestein should probably have gone with him, but he'd had enough of psychopaths for one day. Instead, he left the 2IQ building with Woodburner and Jimi Jones. They shared a cab back to the VastTel headquarters. Woodburner was particularly keen to talk to Jones; the explosion had left a gaping hole in the organisation, as well as in the south-facing wall of the building. The CEO position needed to be filled as quickly as possible, and, as far as Woodburner was concerned, Jones was the only person who had shown any initiative, ever, even if he wasn't quite sure what it was he did.

'Look, I want you to take on the top job,' he said, 'at least as a stand-in whilst Buffet recovers.'

Young Jimi Jones was, of course, astonished. After all, he was only 21. People had worked in the organisation for 50 years and still only made it one or two rungs up the corporate ladder. All of a sudden, he was being catapulted to the top of the 15-tier management structure in one fell swoop. Part of him wanted to say no — it was a big responsibility that was likely to intrude on his youthful ambitions that were largely focused around parties and sex, and how he'd like to start getting invitations to either. But there was also the curiosity of what such a magnificent role might entail, and, more importantly, what sort of chair he'd have.

There was the curiosity of what such a magnificent role might entail, and, more importantly, what sort of chair he'd have.

'If he doesn't recover, we can look at giving you the full-time gig,' Woodburner continued.

'But maybe he'll never recover,' interjected Whimplestein. Woodburner looked at him sternly. He didn't appreciate the interruption.

'I should imagine they've taken him to the Prince Edward Private Hospital,' the psychiatrist continued, 'and I understand he's highly allergic to penicillin.'

Jones wondered why he was being offered this information, and why the psychiatrist was now offering him a small bottle and a syringe.

'And if that doesn't work, try peanuts,' added Woodburner.

Surely they weren't advising him on how to finish Buffet off? They didn't think he was that desperate for the top job? Nobody would resort to such brutal measures, would they? He was, of course, very young and unaware of the ways of the corporate world.

It was with this woeful lack of experience that the very next day, Jones was installed, with very little fanfare or ceremony, as the third chief executive officer of VastTel. It was an impressive step up for a graduate who had spent his entire working life, of just a few months, totally unsure of what he was supposed to be doing.

In theory, his lack of experience provided the perfect continuity from his predecessor, who had been through his entire working life unsure of what he should be doing, and had, therefore, done nothing. Unfortunately for the government, Jones wasn't going to continue that tradition. He saw his appointment as an opportunity to drive change; to make the company efficient, competitive and profitable. This could be his big chance to make a name for himself. If he was heading up the biggest company in the country at 21, he could be prime minister by 30. He considered it a real possibility. After all, so far, none of it seemed particularly difficult.

If he was heading up the biggest company in the country at 21, he could be prime minister by 30. None of it seemed particularly difficult.

He was, of course, treading a dangerous path. The Duff government — and Holton-Lacey, in particular — would not take such ambition lying down. Jones didn't realise how he was putting his life in great danger, assuming the secret service could figure out how to operate a ZX240-G rocket launcher. And so, he quickly threw himself into his new role, blissfully unaware of the government's involvement in the business.

'Natalie,' he said through the intercom to his personal assistant, who was sitting outside, reading the first issue of Hot Flush, a magazine she had mistakenly assumed was aimed at middle-aged women, but instead was filled with classified advertisements for toilet bowls and cisterns. She was surprised to have a new boss who actually knew her name. She sometimes had difficulty remembering it herself, it was used so rarely.

'Can you organise a meeting with all my direct reports to start in an hour?' he asked. He'd been at work for less than an hour himself, but he was keen to get up to speed with what everyone was up to.

'I'm not sure I can organise a venue in so short a time.'

'We'll just use the boardroom,' he said. He'd seen it that morning as he walked into his office. There was an impressive, polished mahogany table, and some very interesting chairs that he was keen to try out. Although he doubted they could beat the Grade 1 Chair that he was sitting on. It was similar to a first-class airline seat, with a total recline capability and a full in-flight entertainment system built in.

'Well, Mr Buffet used to always use the main ballroom at the Hodbrook Hotel,' said Natalie.

Jones had been to the Hodbrook. The ballroom was huge.

'Won't the boardroom do?' he asked.

'I'll try for the Hodbrook,' she insisted. 'They can fit 200 people easily.'

'It's only for my direct reports,' he reminded her.

'And there are 200 of them,' she said.

Jones fell back in his chair. It reclined completely, made a tiny 'bing' noise, and the lights dimmed. He spent several minutes looking for a lever to return to the upright position, at one point causing an oxygen mask to fall down from the ceiling.

Topics: Telcos


Phil Dobbie has a wealth of radio and business experience. He started his career in commercial radio in the UK and, since coming to Australia in 1991, has held senior marketing and management roles with Telstra, OzEmail, the British Tourist Authority and other telecommunications, media, travel and advertising businesses.

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