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The Incumbent: Chapter 17

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.

Parsons was tired. He was having difficulty sleeping at night. It was hardly surprising for a man who had agreed to kill someone. He always hated losing sleep over a client. It was valuable time he should be billing for. He always did bill for it, of course, but in his sleep it was difficult to know how long he had been tossing around ideas. For example, experts reckon a dream typically lasts for only 15 minutes, even though it seems like a lot more. So does he bill for the time spent dreaming, or the perceived time? That's a rhetorical question, of course; the safest thing to do was just charge for the entire night.

Woodburner was a despicable character and he deserved to die, like a lot of people in the television industry.

On this occasion such a charge seemed fair enough. Parson's mind had been in overdrive, split between devising intriguing ways to commit the perfect murder and comprehending the foulness of the deed. Strangely, the option of not committing the murder hadn't crossed his mind. VastTel was too big an account to lose, it must be protected at all cost. Besides, he tried to reason with himself, Woodburner was a despicable character and he deserved to die, like a lot of people in the television industry.

But it was a whole new territory for him. Corporate consultants had committed many misdemeanours in the past but none, as far as he was aware, had ever gone as far as killing someone. He would have heard about it if they had. Consultants promote their work extensively. No one was going to do something successfully, a rare feat in itself, without sticking it on their website and tweeting it.

So Parsons had to develop a plan; a new way of working. Consultants loved to apply templates and formulaic processes that could be repeated without thinking. That way, when they lost their minds, perhaps through old age or drugs, they could carry on without influencing the quality of their work. With that in mind, Parsons had to devise the formula that could be used and repeated by him or any other corporate consultant charged with the task of committing a murder. Not just any murder, of course. It had to be a murder conducted according to 'world's best practise', three words that consultants liked to use regularly to indicate that they are particularly good at what they do, even if no one ever really believes it.

Abandoning hope of sleep, Parsons left his wife, who was relieved to have the bed to herself, made a cup of coffee, then sat at the dining room table with a large blank sheet of paper and considered how to proceed.

The first step was obvious. Every project needed a name. Most people would come up with one quickly, if they thought they needed one at all, and then get on with the task at hand. That's not how a consultant worked though, particularly an experienced consultant like Parsons. He needed a project name, but first he had to determine the process that would be used to come up with a name, following world's best practise.

He generally spent a good half of all time devoted to any project arriving at a name for it. The rest of the time would be spent planning, before the project was pulled because the opportunity had passed.

One name was Project Puru, which appeared to be Swahili for rectum.

Latin phrases and Greek Gods were his favourite hunting ground for titles — names like Metis, Eos and Pallas all seemed to work well — but with more than 670 projects behind him he had just about exhausted his supply. He worked through the night, and by mid-morning was still searching for inspiration when Buffet called him.

'Just wanted to see whether he's dead yet,' he asked, in a scarily matter-of-fact way.

'Not yet, ' said Parson. 'I'm working on a name for the project.'

'Well I'd rather you just got on with it,' said a despondent Buffet, who then went on to consider that a name could be handy. 'It'd be something nondescript to put in the diary,' he reasoned.

Buffet's manner was making Parsons nervous. He didn't seem concerned about the ruthless nature of the task and was totally at ease with the idea of having someone killed just to keep his job.

'All the more reason to see the whole seamy affair through,' he thought. God knows what would happen to him if he failed to deliver on the promise. For a moment he imagined Buffet in an exclusive dining room, with high-powered figures, chewing over the more delicate parts of Parson's body. 'Enjoy it while you can chaps!' Buffet said to the merry crowd, 'you know how expensive these consultants are.'

'So what name have you come up with?' asked Buffet. Parsons quickly refocused on the conversation, although he crossed his legs at the thought of someone swallowing his scrotums whole. He needed to think of something quickly and glanced at the large sheet of paper in front of him. He found spurious ramblings in Greek, Latin and Spanish, none of which made sense. One name was Project Puru, which appeared to be Swahili for rectum. For a moment he contemplated something in Welsh, before deciding that was just silly.

The phone call was interrupted by a couple of quick beeps. 'Can you excuse me for a second?' said Buffet. 'I've got another call coming through, but give me that project title when I come back to you.'

'Shit,' thought Parsons. Now was the time for some fast thinking. He had to abandon the one week process he'd been mapping out, cancel the half-day project-naming workshop planned for a week on Friday, and come up with one that instant. But it wasn't easy to concentrate with VastTel's on-hold music blaring away in his left ear. It was playing FM station HITS80, featuring music exclusively from the eighties, with the slogan 'The Eighties, whether you want it or not'. The audience ratings had shown time and time again that clearly, most people didn't want it.

Parsons wasn't averse to the music, per se, but it was making it difficult to recall relevant characters from Greek mythology; Apollo, Hermes, Poseidon, Demis Roussos. The music was putting him off.

He didn't want to die young (he had convinced himself that 46 was still young) and so he had to act quickly.

Soon HITS80 had moved on to minor eighties pop sensation Kajagoogoo, who enjoyed success with only one song, 'Too Shy'. It was the only radio station in the world that still played it, but they played it every hour or so, providing enough royalties to keep Kimahl in haircuts.

'Too shy shy,' the song went, 'hush hush, eye to eye.'

'Shut up!' Parsons yelled down the phone, irritated by the chorus and his lack of sleep.

'Too shy shy,' the lyrics continued, somewhat repetitively.

'I can't concentrate!' he screamed.

'Hush hush, eye to eye ...'

The line clicked and Buffet was back on the line.

'So what's it to be?' he asked. 'What shall we call it?'

Parsons' mind was confused. He could only repeat the last thing he'd heard.

'How about "Hush hush",' he suggested.

'Sorry?' said Buffet, assuming it was a bad line.

'Eye to eye?' said Parsons, grimacing. It all sounded rather pathetic.

'Hush hush, eye to eye,' said Buffet one more time. He thought for a moment before declaring, 'Yes, I like it'. He reached for his phone. 'Daphne can you book Parsons in for a "Project Hush Hush Eye to Eye" meeting tomorrow at 10?'

'What the f…,' said his secretary, but Buffet had hung up before she had a chance to finish.

'I hope you'll have something to show me by then,' Buffet said before abruptly finishing the call. He didn't normally finish a call so quickly, but call drop-outs were becoming increasingly common on the VastTel network. It was something to do with maintenance. Apparently someone should have been doing some of it.

The project was all moving rather too quickly for Parsons. Only yesterday he was saying he couldn't start till a week on Thursday, with plans to stretch the whole thing out over a few months at least. Now it seemed Buffet wanted to see something tomorrow — what did he mean by that? Did he really want Woodburner dead by then?

In reality Buffet wasn't expecting too much. He knew the speed at which consultants worked. All he expected was a preliminary plan of some sort, or perhaps a logo to go with the new project name, but Parsons had assumed more. He thought he wanted to see a toe or a finger; evidence that the job had been done.

He doubted he could get it done that night, though. Surely it was reasonable to have a little more time to kill the son of the most powerful man in the country, but clearly there was no messing with Buffet.

For the first time ever, Parsons feared for his life. He didn't want to die young (he had convinced himself that 46 was still young) and so he had to act quickly. 'Tonight's the night,' he thought to himself, which coincidentally was playing at precisely that moment on HITS80, even though it was a Rod Stewart song from the seventies. How could they make such a mistake? There was such an uproar from all four listeners that the program director was forced to resign. He was later offered a programming role at Radio 2IQ but opted for suicide instead, just to keep his credibility intact.

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.