The Incumbent: Chapter 44

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

It was a shock for Duff to wake up, finding a naked Holton-Lacey nuzzling up behind him. It was also a relief, in that the alternative explanation was that his wife had a penis and he'd never noticed it. Perhaps because it had never been this erect before. It was only when Holton-Lacey called him 'darling' and nibbled him on his left ear that he realised something was wrong. He hadn't been nibbled on the ear for 40 years.

'Oh my god, no!' screamed the prime minister, recoiling to the edge of the mattress.

The finance minister screamed and jumped out of bed, his erection pulling the covers away with him. Carrying such a heavy load ached a bit, but Holton-Lacey was momentarily proud of just how much weight it could bear. He wrapped the duvet around him as he went in search of his clothes. As he did so, his mind was racing. How the hell could he explain his way out of this?

'Oh my god, no!' screamed the prime minister, recoiling to the edge of the mattress.

Duff was wondering whether this happened every night. Not with him, obviously. He'd remember that for certain. But last night he had slept in his wife's bed. He had been having horrible nightmares — he was dreaming that Holton-Lacey was machine-gunning down thousands of people. He came to his wife's bed, seeking company. Perhaps, in the morning, he'd thought, they could rekindle the flame from the early years of their marriage; or, at least, to be accurate, the first couple of weeks. He had been quite excited to see his wife in her transparent negligee and a little bit more so that she had openly displayed herself in front of Holton-Lacey. The thought of her as an exhibitionist excited him. Now, though, it was clear the two were having an affair. It was the only conclusion he could draw.

'I should have told you before,' said Holton-Lacey, half an hour later when Duff walked into the breakfast room. Duff's wife, wearing a less-appealing pair of flannelette pyjamas and a pink dressing gown with a Dumbo the elephant motif, was standing beside the toaster, observing. The two of them had obviously been discussing what had happened before Duff walked in.

'I love you,' said Holton-Lacey, sitting opposite the prime minister and tenderly taking his hand.

'What?' said Duff.

'I always have. And last night, I just had to spend the night with you.'

Duff expected to be repulsed by the thought, but he was actually grateful that someone was taking an interest in him. His own wife obviously didn't feel the same way; she had moved downstairs — actually, down two flights of stairs — to escape his intermittent snoring. Holton-Lacey had found the snoring endearing when he thought it was from Duff's wife, but he was besotted and thought everything about her was close to perfection. Although he didn't have high standards.

The two had hatched the 'I'm gay' plot as a way of covering up the night's misunderstanding, as well as paving the way for them to continue their dalliance in a more open way.

'The truth is,' said Holton-Lacey, trying to look sincere (years as a politician meant he was one of the best when it came to faking it), 'I'm gay.'

Years as a politician meant he was one of the best when it came to faking it.

Duff sat back, a big smile on his face.

'That's a bloody relief,' he said. 'I thought for a moment you were having an affair with my wife.'

Everyone in the room laughed. They knew Duff was easily swayed.

'Oh, no,' said Holton-Lacey, a little smile in his voice now. 'Obviously, as a gay man, I find her quite repulsive.'

She seemed a little upset by the remark.

'But I can see, at times, she needs company,' continued Holton-Lacey, 'so I do join her in bed.'

'Hence the confusion last night,' concluded the prime minister, clapping his hands as if to dismiss the matter, and reaching for a box of breakfast cereal and the morning paper. It all made perfect sense now. Except for the bit about the erect penis. If Holton-Lacey thought he was in bed with her, why was he so hard? Duff dismissed the thought for a moment; it was all too complicated. He concentrated, instead, on what was it to be that morning — Wheety-bits or Honey Chuffs?

The matter apparently settled, his wife, whose name he was fairly certain was Virginia, left the two men together to discuss business. As Holton-Lacey took a bowl from the cupboard, Duff opened the paper.

'What the ...,' said the prime minister, moments later, choking on a Honey Chuff. He had just glanced at the headline.

'Thousands Missing. Foul Play Suspected,' it ran. 'By Trisha Botherington.'

'We agreed we would kill everyone in VastTel, including Jones and Musson, and start afresh.'

'Do you know anything about this?' he intoned, looking towards Holton-Lacey.

The finance minister had his back to him.

'Yes. It's the Redundancy Plan,' he said, trying to sound as casual as possible, as if this was just part of the ordinary machinations of government.

'What? What the hell has happened to them?' babbled Duff, starting to fear the worst.

Holton-Lacey turned round, a cereal bowl in his hand.

'They're dead, of course,' he said, taking a spoonful of Wheety-bits.

Duff said nothing coherent. He stuttered for a few seconds, but he clearly hadn't decided which word he was stuttering on. He was just so amazed that his government could be part of something so horrific.

It was lousy news to start the day with.

'We discussed this, remember?' said Holton-Lacey, in the same condescending tone one adopts when trying to get a young child to do something like tidy his room. Here, of course, the consequences were rather more far reaching.

'We agreed we would kill everyone in VastTel, including Jones and that Musson character, and start afresh.'

'I agreed to no such thing.'

'Yes, you did. A long time ago.'

Holton-Lacey explained how the day had been a long time coming; how the air-tight design had been a key requirement in the plans for the VastTel building years before. How, if the VastTel plan ever derailed, thousands will disappear and the government would blame a mystery virus. The subsequent fear would divert attention from the real cause, and the distraction would be enough for people not to question why this mystery virus had selectively claimed VastTel workers as its victims.

'They're all telco workers. It's not as though anyone is going to miss them. They're hardly a loss to society.'

'That's a horrid plan. I would never agree to that.'

'Too late now. It's the Redundancy Plan, and you signed off on it. You're part of it.'

Holton-Lacey sat back on the kitchen bench, dangling a teabag in a cup of hot water. Duff couldn't believe he was being so relaxed about all this. When he'd suspected he had been planning something behind his back, he never dreamed it would be something as horrendous as all this.

'They are all telco workers,' said the finance minister, wondering why Duff seemed so perturbed. 'It's not as though anyone is going to miss them. They are hardly a loss to society.'

'Telco workers are people, too,' said the prime minister, almost in tears.

Holton-Lacey had shown his true colours. He now realised this man was capable of anything to further his ambition. He was controlling, callous and scheming; all perfectly admirable traits for a politician, but he had taken them all way too far. Who knows where he'd stop? Certainly, he wasn't to be trusted.

'And I don't believe you're gay,' he said, looking Holton-Lacey straight in the eye.

The remark shook the finance minister's confidence a little.

'What?' he said, a slight quiver in his voice.

'You heard me,' said Duff, his voice filled with hatred. 'I don't think you are gay.'

'Of course I am.' Holton-Lacey looked down at his cereal and took another spoonful of Honey Chuffs. He wanted to avoid further eye contact.

'I'm gay. I fancy you and not your wife.'

It didn't sound convincing.

'F*** me then,' said Duff.

'What?'

'If you fancy me, give me a damn good rodgering, right now.'

'If you fancy me, give me a damn good rodgering, right now.'

'You're just being silly.'

But Duff was determined. He wanted to demonstrate his point, and wasn't going to let Holton-Lacey dismiss it quite so quickly. Not this time. Clearly, he had to stand up to his finance minister, and this was as good a point as any to tackle him on.

He got up from his chair and manoeuvred himself in front of Holton-Lacey, pulled his pyjama pants down, bent forward, stepped his feet wide apart and grabbed hold of the far side of the table.

'Go on. F*** me into tomorrow,' he cried.

He knew the finance minister would be revolted by what he saw. God knows, whenever he looked in a mirror he was, and he'd spared himself such an intimate view.

'Hello, dear,' said Duff's wife. Virginia had returned to the room just as Duff had extended the invitation. She didn't seem surprised, but the same couldn't be said for the others. She had brought company.

'Trisha Botherington is here,' she announced. 'And she has brought a film crew with her.'

Duff looked back in horror. Botherington had a broad smile on her face.

'Another story,' she thought. 'This is turning out to be quite a busy week.'

She motioned the film crew into the room.

'Could you just do that again?' she asked. 'Once more, for the camera.'

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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