The Incumbent: Chapter 9

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.

Twistie Buffet hated reporting season or, as many senior executives preferred to call it, fudging season: the time of the year when they presented scarcely believable sets of financial figures to investors in a way that hid what was truly happening to the company. The only reason they got away with it was because they were talking to stockbrokers and traders who, by and large, weren't that smart. After all, they just bought and sold things, with other people's money. How hard was that?

If a company executive started spouting strategies they didn't understand, which often happened, they'd assume it was some mastermind plot and instantly bought a disproportionate number of shares in an excitable fashion. Several months later, when the whole enterprise collapsed in a heap, the stockbroker would apologise to his clients for leaving them destitute, possibly calling from the airport at the start of an expensive overseas holiday, leaving the investors to sell their homes, get divorced, perhaps commit suicide or, in more extreme cases, move to New Zealand.

There was no real reason for the PR people to be there, but they were an inexpensive way to fill seats and improve the TV coverage, particularly with their predilection for wearing short skirts, especially the women.

This time, VastTel's half-yearly results were particularly bad news. Practically all figures were heading south. Buffet knew he would have to talk up what opportunities existed, an approach that would fool few people, possibly not even the stockbrokers this time round. VastTel had a track record of identifying opportunities, only to see them pass them by. No one had any reason to assume that was about to change.

Nonetheless Buffet was going to give it a try. He addressed a room of investors and brokers, mixed with underfed finance journalists and PR people. There was no real reason for the PR people to be there, but they were an inexpensive way to fill seats and improve the TV coverage, particularly with their predilection for wearing short skirts, especially the women.

'Soon every device in your home will be connected to the internet,' Buffet declared. It wasn't groundbreaking. Commentators had been forecasting this for years, although quite what your fridge or toaster will do on the internet was anyone's guess. Perhaps in a year or so your oven will ask to be your friend on Headlook, the social networking website that, at last count, was used by everyone on the planet, except a few in the southern tip of Cornwall. To most people, machines talking to each other was a surreal vision of the future, yet people in the telecommunications industry liked the idea of connecting everything to everything, for no readily apparent reason.

That didn't stop them dreaming up excuses. For example, your television would be able to tell the bed when you've fallen asleep on the couch so, when your couch gives you an electric shock to wake you up, the electric blanket will have warmed up sufficiently. Your oven could check the social networking updates of your friends to know how late they're going to be for dinner and refuse to let the oven start cooking the chicken too early. And your bed could consult your doctor if it believes you're having an extra-marital affair with someone known on the internet to be carrying a sexually transmitted disease.

All of these developments could remove a lot of uncertainty from people's lives, as well as removing any spontaneity, of course. Devices would be taking actions on people's behalf, to which they would be blissfully unaware, at least until they received their monthly telecommunications bill and realised just how much the various devices had been talking to each other.

And that, of course, was the key. Unable to make any more money from human beings making phone calls, telecommunications companies were now hoping to make money from machines calling other machines. They had realised that, whilst you could tell your partner or children to cut down on use of the phone or the internet, it was impossible to tell your fridge or vacuum cleaner to do the same thing.

'VastTel will be at the forefront of this new age,' said Buffet to the assembled crowd. 'When every device will be connected to the internet.'

'Every device?'

The question came from Trisha Botherington, a stunning blonde finance journalist, who could turn any heterosexual male to jelly. She had a taut body that looked as though it had been genetically engineered for sex. Her alluring demeanour, coupled with her inquisitive style, meant she could wrap any man round her finger.

'Every...,' Buffet cleared his throat, then said in an octave or two higher than intended, 'yes, every device. Absolutely.'

Every man, and most women, found it hard to respond to Botherington's questions. It's distracting trying to have a conversation with someone when sexual energy seems to be oozing through the pores of her skin.

'Well, what about...,' she thought for a moment, 'a toilet?'

Buffet was half listening. He was distracted by her naked tanned thighs, his gaze following their lightly muscled tone to the point where they disappeared underneath her thin, white silk dress. He was aware she was talking, but his imagination was taking him further up the leg, inside the dress, to a place where many men had dreamed of but few, if any, had ever been.

Unable to make any more money from human beings making phone calls, telecommunications companies were now hoping to make money from machines calling other machines.

'What possible reason could there be for having my lavatory connected to the internet?' Botherington's tone was mocking, her approach was forthright, but her eyes suggested sex, hard and fast, in the downstairs cloakroom. Right now.

'Now?' asked Buffet, before realising Botherington hadn't suggested any such thing. His mind was racing away with him. He adjusted his underwear as best he could without drawing attention to himself.

'Sorry?' she asked, slowly, her moist lips puckered as though they were ready to be wrap themselves around Buffet's swelling manhood.

'Nothing,' whimpered Buffet, feebly, before quickly calling the conference to a close, sitting down and seeing further to his underpants, which now barely contained him. Before he dared stand up again he tried to distract himself with thoughts of share price movements, debt-to-equity ratios and volume moving averages, but his mind was still exploring her perfectly formed legs and the way the silk clung between her buttocks. It was half an hour after Botherington and the investors had left the room before Buffet felt it was safe to stand up again.

All in all, the presentation hadn't been his finest hour. There was really nothing of any significance in his presentation that would detract attention from the company's declining market share, rising customer dissatisfaction and perceived, and actual, lack of vision. Instead he'd promised nothing, made worse by appearing nervous, sweating and standing uncomfortably, particularly towards the end when he started fidgeting with his trousers. It was the kind of performance that the press would feed on, more than likely sending the share price into free fall. He had to think quickly, if only to rid his mind of Trisha Botherington. He was starting to get excited again, but thoughts of Madeleine Albright seemed to do the trick. He always kept that vision in reserve.

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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