'Who are you?' screamed the on-duty nurse on the Not Particularly Intensive Care Ward at the Prince Edward Private Hospital the next morning.
'I'm the prime minister,' said Duff. He and Holton-Lacey had walked past the front desk, keen to avoid any scrutiny. They were on secret government business.
'I don't care whether you're the Sultan of bloody Brunei, you're not coming in here outside visiting hours!'
'This scheme can't fail. We have the staff, the CEO and a plan.'
Duff engaged the woman in conversation, whilst Holton-Lacey slipped past to a tiny private room at the end of the corridor. Inside was dark, except for the red lights from a heart monitor. It beeped every minute. The beeps were nothing to do with the patient's condition; it just reassured staff that they'd plugged it in.
The man strapped to the monitor was breathing slowly. It was the shallow rasp of someone who looked like he was on the last phase of his life. Every breath of air seemed harder than the last. His face was expressionless, his eyes fixed at a point in the ceiling.
'Do you remember me?' Holton-Lacey asked.
The man didn't even acknowledge his presence. The machine beeped, that was all.
'Raise your finger if you recognise me.' He moved his face into the path of the man's gaze and smiled brightly. The patient didn't even flinch. Holton-Lacey threw a fist in his direction, stopping just a few millimetres from the nose. Nothing happened.
'My god, you really are just an empty vessel, aren't you?' he said, and he left the man to return to where Duff was talking with the nurse. She seemed to be bending his ear about nurses' pay, and he was asking what she expected him to do about it.
'Well, you are the prime minister.'
It was a good point. Fortunately, Holton-Lacey came at the right time, just as he was losing the argument.
'Come on, let's go,' he said, and Duff happily followed him down the corridor.
'So, you saw him?'
'Yes, I did.'
'And is he up to the task?'
'I'd say so. He is the perfect man for the job.'
'Brilliant,' said the prime minister. 'This scheme can't fail. We have the staff, the CEO and a plan. Perhaps I should write it all down on a big sheet of paper.'
'No way,' said Holton-Lacey. 'I think we'll keep this one in our heads and try and avoid any documentation.'
'Thank God that Botherington woman went and got herself pregnant,' said Duff.
'Yes,' said Holton-Lacey. 'That will make life a bit easier.'
'And now we can show Sydney Musson who is really in charge.'
'We certainly will,' said Holton-Lacey, pleased with the way things had turned out.
Despite the best efforts of the public health system, it seemed he was on a full road to recovery...
The prime minister doubted he could ever forgive his finance minister for what he'd tried to do — slaughtering half your own people is something to be frowned on — but he did seem to have mellowed over the last few months. Perhaps they could work together again, just like the olden days. He knew with their new broadband network employing thousands, they'd soon regain control of the country.
'In years to come, when people are asked who was the greatest leader this county has ever known, what name will they say?' asked the prime minister, expecting his now more compliant finance minister to call out, 'Alvin Duff, of course.'
But he didn't. Holton Lacey paused for a moment. 'Er...'
There was an embarrassing silence. He'd forgotten his name again.
Back in the hospital room, the frail man had another guest. The visitor was almost luminescent, sending a strange orange glow across the darkened room. He moved over to the bed and placed his hand on the forehead of the comatose patient. 'Don't worry,' he said. 'I haven't forgotten. I've still got a job to do; I won't let you down.' The patient's hand twitched slightly, the first movement in weeks. Then, as the stranger tiptoed out the door, a smile slowly spread across his face and he managed to open one eye. Despite the best efforts of the public health system, it seemed he was on a full road to recovery.
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.