The Incumbent: Chapter 46

It's an intricate web of murder plots, government conspiracies and rampant tanning. Oh, and the future of the entire nation.

Trisha Botherington had a way of making people talk. Normally, she used her feminine allure to put people at ease, until they eventually said something they regretted, but when a camera crew started an interview by shooting the prime minister hurriedly pulling his trousers up over his bare arse, blackmail could be a little more expedient.

'Was this interview scheduled?' said Duff, hurriedly getting dressed.

'No,' said Botherington. 'But I thought you'd never turn down an opportunity to appear on Tomorrow Today.'

Normally, she used feminine allure to put people at ease until they eventually said something they regretted, but blackmail could be more expedient.

'Tomorrow Today?' said Duff. 'Holton-Lacey has been trying for years to get me on that show.'

It wasn't a show Botherington normally worked on, but she was certain that with the right story, she could convince the producers to give her a spot.

'I was told he wasn't foreign enough,' explained Holton-Lacey. 'I thought they only ran stories on dole-bludging migrants fitting faulty air-conditioning units.'

He was rather enjoying the fact that the prime minister had been compromised in such a fashion. He relished the prospect of seeing his bare arse on prime-time television. It could be Duff's downfall. Then he'd be ready to step into his shoes. He had far more effective ways of controlling the population beyond the VastTel experiment — plans much more far reaching than anything the prime minister would ever agree to.

'And who are you?' asked Botherington. She was the country's most studious reporter when it came to researching stories, but she hadn't ever come across the finance minister.

'That's Holton-Lacey,' said Duff quickly. 'And he's just leaving.'

His tone had an unusually forceful manner.

'No, actually, I think I'll stay and watch.'

Duff gave him a stern look. Holton-Lacey just smiled back at him. It just served to infuriate the prime minister more, who had decided he wanted nothing more to do with his dastardly plans.

While they had been talking, lights had been set up either side of Duff, and an audio cable had been fed up the inside of his pyjama top, the microphone clipped near the top button.

'So, who is the husband in this relationship, and who is the wife?'

'So, who is the husband in this relationship, and who is the wife?'

Botherington had started the interview. Duff was caught a little off guard. She was looking at Duff, then at Holton-Lacey, who was distressed to see the camera swing round, to catch him sitting in his pyjamas in the prime minister's kitchen.

'No, it's not the way it looks,' said Duff, realising how difficult it would be to explain.

Botherington wasn't too concerned about their sex life. She really wanted to get to the bottom of the VastTel story.

'Who torpedoed the side of the VastTel building?' she asked, switching her approach.

'I really have no idea,' answered Duff honestly, although he was now giving far more serious thought to the idea that Holton-Lacey had been involved.

'Why would anyone want to see Twistie Buffet killed?'

'I don't know,' he said. Then he thought he needed to add more. There was a lot he wanted to get off his chest. He looked over to Holton-Lacey, who seemed a little uncomfortable.

'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.