'There was a belief that Buffet might have been driving an efficiency program over at VastTel.'
'Hardly a bad thing,' said Botherington.
'Well, it depends on your point of view. There is a risk that if it becomes too efficient, a lot of people could find themselves out of work.'
'Couldn't they find work elsewhere? After all, we have a fairly healthy economy.'
'The economy would be crippled if these people weren't paid the exorbitant amounts paid to telecommunications workers.'
'Not these people,' admitted Duff.
'Are you saying there is something peculiar about the people who VastTel has employed?'
'Well, yes,' said Duff. Holton-Lacey was now frantically shaking his head. The cameraman saw his gestures in the corner of his eye and quickly swung round to get him in shot.
'These people are all inept. They are, basically, unemployable.'
'And you have been paying this company to employ these people, so they didn't show up in the unemployment statistics.'
Clearly, she had done her homework. All she was looking for was a confession. Duff assumed the game was up, and, if he was going to go down for this, he wanted Holton-Lacey to go down with him. He decided to explain more.
'Well, it wasn't a question of showing up in the statistics. It was a fear that the economy would be crippled if all these people weren't paid the exorbitant amounts paid to telecommunications workers.'
Botherington was trying hard to contain her excitement. This was gold.
'So, how did you plan to stop this happening?' she asked.
'Well, it wasn't my plan. We have Holton-Lacey over there to thank for this. He killed them, all of them.'
Botherington gasped. She looked at the finance minister, who was, rather feebly, trying to cover his head with a box of Wheety-bits. The box wasn't empty, and the contents were cascading down his pyjamas.
'We have Holton-Lacey over there to thank for this. He killed them, all of them.'
Botherington could see it as the picture for the morning's newspapers. The headline 'Cereal Killer' immediately sprang to mind.
Duff went on to explain what he knew about the Redundancy Plan, and how it had been used to kill everyone who worked for VastTel. With no employees, and starved of government support, the company would collapse in a financial heap. They would then set up a new phone company — one that the government owned — that would take over the mantle of employing the unemployable.
'I think Holton-Lacey assumed that nobody would notice how many people had suddenly disappeared. Or, at least, they wouldn't realise they all worked for the same company.'
The finance minister was no longer following what had been said. He had left the room and fled the building, running across the grounds of the Lodge clad only in his — or, more accurately, a pair of the prime minister's — pyjamas.
Botherington, meanwhile, was torn between getting more incriminating information from the prime minister, and getting down to the VastTel headquarters. She had to see if Jimi Jones was still alive. It was a pity that tens of thousands of unemployable people had been subject to mass murder, but it was downright atrocious if the government had gone and killed off someone who she suspected was the love of her life, long before they'd had a chance to make babies and nauseate people with their own smug, mutual happiness.
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.