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 world had seemed a little surreal lately for Sydney Musson. One moment, he was minding his own business at the Eton Towers guest house; the next, he was relishing the prospect of getting Trisha Botherington into bed — then, before he knew what was going on, he was sitting inside a Black Hawk helicopter with a group of grunting men who could easily have been clones of each other.
They landed on the roof of a building downtown. Musson couldn't see exactly where, because the men had put a black bag over his head. It wasn't standard practice; they just didn't like looking at him.
He was unsure which language consisted mainly of grunts — all he could think of was female Scandinavian tennis players.
'Where are you taking me?' he asked, as he was pulled out of the helicopter and jostled down a few stairs and pushed into a lift.
The men said nothing. They just grunted a bit more.
'Bloody typical,' said Musson. 'Government departments. They're all run by foreigners,' although he was unsure of which language consisted mainly of grunts. All he could think of was female Scandinavian tennis players.
'Are you Swedish?' he asked, but the men said nothing.
Musson suspected that something very sinister was happening here. He had often assumed that the government was involved in the ritualistic torture of civilians — as a penance for those who failed to complete their income tax returns on time, for example — now, he feared he was about to experience it first-hand.
'What is going on?' he demanded. He had been shunted into a room and thrown forcibly into a swivel chair.
'Mr Musson,' said a woman's voice. 'Welcome.'
The bag was removed from his head and he saw his own reflection in a mirror in front of him. 'How disgraceful,' he thought. 'They want me to witness my own pain.'
Beside him stood a young Chinese woman, very attractive, but, as far as he was concerned, that didn't matter. She was foreign. He'd never minded foreigners, but two weeks of listening to Adam Willis had convinced him they were all up to something.
The young Chinese lady was in her early 20s. Was she to be the one who would apply the torture? She had a tray of implements beside her. His vision was too blurred to make out exactly what they were, but he knew what they were there for. He gritted his teeth and closed his eyes.
He'd never minded foreigners, but two weeks of listening to Adam Willis had convinced him they were all up to something.
'Be brave,' he said to himself. 'And say nothing.'
Then he thought about it a bit more. Actually, he didn't have anything to say. He didn't harbour any state secrets. There was nothing about him that hadn't already been unearthed; in the courts, in media reports and in his psychology analyses that he'd noticed Whimplestein had been posting onto social-networking sites. His life was an open book.
Again, the Chinese woman spoke.
'So,' she said politely, her accent as Australian as they come. 'How would you like your hair cut?'
'What?' said Musson. 'I have been dragged all this way for a haircut?'
'Not just a haircut, obviously,' said the woman. 'You've got a suit fitting, and a briefing from the finance minister. We have to make sure you're ready for your new job.'