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.
Alvin Duff wasn't having a good day. He was at home having breakfast at the Lodge, his prime ministerial home, reading the front-page news, which included the latest opinion poll; 37 percent of voters hadn't heard of him, 22 percent said they didn't know what he stood for and everyone else didn't like him much. But that wasn't the bad news. In fact, it was an improvement on the last survey, when 45 percent didn't care who he was, and 31 percent thought he was that bastard who deflowered their daughter in the park immediately after the year 12 formal.
No, a bad opinion poll wasn't a concern. What was really upsetting Duff was the article leading the paper that day. 'Youth Slices Telco in Half', ran the headline, 'by Trisha Botherington'. The piece went into excruciating detail about how Jimi Jones planned to make substantial cutbacks at VastTel.
'Jones, an impressive young man, circumcised, with a cute little birth mark on his left buttock...'
'How dare he,' screamed the prime minister. 'This is in direct contravention of the government's policy.' He read how the upstart was going to make vast swathes of the population unemployed — people not smart enough to get a job elsewhere. Bad unemployment figures would upset the country's credit rating. It would send a bad message to overseas investors, whose money Australia needed to build big, ugly mining projects and even uglier apartment blocks.
'Young Jimi Jones, just 21, is at the helm of the country's biggest telecommunications company,' Botherington had written. 'New to the role, he is keen to pursue the recommendations of a consultancy report that suggested staff numbers be halved, then perhaps halved again repeatedly on a weekly basis, until more manageable numbers are reached.'
Duff was well aware of the report Botherington referred to. He remembered asking Holton-Lacey to make sure it didn't leak out. He was unaware that the finance minister's response had been to shut down the consultancy responsible, and see to it that the partners' names, Shorrock, Ball & Winston, were displayed on adjacent gravestones in Rockwood Cemetery. He would have been horrified to realise the extent of the man's bully-boy tactics. Even now, he had failed to draw the connection between his request for Holton-Lacey to put an end to the VastTel efficiency drive, and the missile attack on the chief executive's office.
The thought of a night of passion with Botherington was enough to propel his chair without any help from his hands or feet.
Clearly, his tactics weren't working. Somehow, Botherington still got access to the report, but from who? One line in the second paragraph seemed to answer the question: 'Jones, an impressive young man, circumcised, with a cute little birth mark on his left buttock, has a passion for turning the company around.' Duff was no detective, but her intimate knowledge of his anatomy suggested more than a mild acquaintance. Jones had obviously got access to the report and leaked it to her in exchange for some sort of sexual favour. He could understand the temptation, of course. The thought of a night of passion with Botherington was enough to propel his chair away from the breakfast table without any help from his hands or his feet.
Jones, uncircumcised, was equally as curious to read the report in the day's newspaper. The night before had seen no exchange of documents, nor any exchange of bodily fluids, yet there was clearly chemistry between them. He was upset to see the article and its insinuation that he had leaked the document, but he welcomed the opportunity to be back in touch with Botherington. And now the word was out, he appreciated it might expedite his redundancy program. Anything that furthered his second most urgent ambition, to streamline VastTel, was a positive thing. The number one ambition was, of course, to have sex with Trisha Botherington. It was a significant development on an earlier ambition of having sex with anyone at all — now he wanted carnal knowledge of the most sought-after woman in the country. Power can do that to you. It can give you unrealistic expectations in all sorts of ways.