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.
Adam Willis often found his mind playing tricks on him. It was probably something to do with getting just a couple of hours' sleep each night, even though he argued that was all he needed. Certainly, an extra five hours might give him the capability of reasoned thought, which would hinder his performance at Radio 2IQ, so he was careful to ration his time in the bedroom.
There was the unfortunate side effect that sleep deprivation could make you see things. Willis knew that's why he kept imagining monkeys and aliens, not to mention the angry mobs protesting outside his studio — he told himself none of these things existed, but he still kept seeing them. So when, each night, a car pulled out from a side street as he headed home, he was never really sure whether it was there or not. Night after night, the same car would follow him, yet, by the time he reached his house, it had disappeared. He explained the visions to a producer at work, who said perhaps it was real (and told him the same went for the angry mob he kept seeing).
'Do you suppose whoever it is means me harm?' he asked. 'Why would someone want to do that?'
The producer didn't answer straight away, but the next day he had compiled an exhaustive list of 749 individuals and 348 interest groups who would like to see Willis dead. And they were the one's he'd been able to get through to on the phone. Another colleague had, unhelpfully, pointed out that kill-willis.com was now the third-highest-rating website in the country. Willis paid it a visit, and wondered whether it was appropriate for the Labor Party to be advertising on it.
The producer compiled an exhaustive list of 749 individuals and 348 interest groups who would like to see Willis dead...
So, he was relieved that on the night after the great VastTel debate, there was no sign of the mysterious car, and the roads had been virtually empty all the way home. But he failed to notice the fresh tyre tracks on the gravel driveway as his Bentley pulled up outside his harbour-side mansion. He also missed the faint smell of burning wood, and the wisps of smoke from the chimney. The idea that someone was in his home was far from his mind; a mind that was too busy contemplating what he would rant about the next morning.
There were a few favourite topics he liked to cover: how there are too many migrants; how migrants are taking our jobs; how to stop migrants; how migrants should be sent home; how migrants aren't to be trusted; how migrants are dole bludgers; how migrants are terrorists; how migrants spread disease; and so on. He tossed some more ideas over in his mind, before deciding that the next morning, his editorial would almost certainly be about migrants. Perhaps something on how ugly they are. He thought that he could argue that so many of them wear a burqa because they're ashamed of their physical appearance. It might upset a few people, but he knew how his audience hated Muslims, so he could use that age-old excuse that he was reflecting community opinion.
Willis had been so lost in his thoughts that he only realised he had company when he opened the front door, walked a few steps up the hallway and turned into his living room. The fire was raging, and a group of men in suits were gathered around the hearth, each having helped themselves to a glass of his finest 40-year-old malt whisky.
'Who the hell are you?' he yelled out, wondering where his 19-year-old Thai housekeeper was. 'And where's Anurak? What have you done with him?'
'He's tied up in your bedroom ... the ropes were already there, and he seemed rather familiar with the process.'
'He's tied up in your bedroom,' said a voice from the armchair. 'Rather convenient, the ropes were already there, and he seemed rather familiar with the process.'
Willis couldn't see who was speaking; the chair was facing away from him, but the voice was vaguely familiar. It was some B-grade celebrity, he thought, but he couldn't quite put a name to him. Or was it that moron who followed on from him at 9 o'clock each morning? He walked up to the fireplace to turn and face him.
'I should imagine you are surprised to see me here?' the man said, looking up at Willis.
'Yes,' said the shock jock, desperately trying to put a name to the face. 'I've seen you on television haven't I?'
'Not often,' said the man. 'But more than my boss. I think you might have met him.'
Suddenly Willis remembered.