Copyright (c) 2017 Alby Stone
Smith isn’t his real name, of course. I pride myself on discretion and confidentiality, all part of the service. You can probably guess who he is, but that isn’t my fault. I don’t point the cameras or write the headlines. I don’t force him to act the goat whenever he so much as sniffs a paparazzo. I didn’t make the client a fucking brand. That was all down to him and no one else. So was what happened next. Attention-seekers make their own bad luck. And he was one of the people responsible for yours.
The first time I saw him he was down on his knees, eyes rolling, a machete in his right hand, blood up to his elbows. And I don’t mean figuratively. Chickens make a real mess when you decapitate them, more so if you don’t have the faintest idea of how to do it. At first I thought he was either extremely drunk or off his head on drugs, but I soon realised that stupefied was his natural state. ‘What’s that supposed to be?’ I asked. It was a rhetorical question, of course. He was covered in blood and feathers and liberally peppered with chicken shit.
‘It’s for you,’ he replied, grinning nervously but hopefully. ‘Is it – ah – acceptable?’
‘What, a fucking chicken? Surely you could do better than that? I mean, you’re not exactly poor, are you? You could have got me a racehorse or something. A pedigree dog would have been nice.’
‘Oh dear,’ he mumbled. ‘Sorry. I thought it was traditional. All the books say you like a big black cock.’
I sighed so deeply they must have felt it back home. ‘The books are wrong, I can assure you of that. I’m strictly a ladies’ man and I don’t give a damn about colour.’ The fixed, vacuous expression suggested my little joke was lost on him. ‘As for that thing,’ – I pointed disdainfully at the sorry object dangling from his left hand – ‘it’s bloody insulting. Chickenfeed, in fact. I prefer something more meaningful than mangled poultry.’ I stared down at him and shook my head. ‘Look here, have you got a towel or something else you could use to clean yourself up a bit? Frankly, you’re a bloody eyesore.’
He actually looked around him. We were at the point where two very remote and totally dark country lanes crossed, just after midnight. The only sign of civilisation was his car parked a dozen or so yards away. Did he actually expect there to be towels draped across a hedgerow? Perhaps a butler with a set of bathroom accoutrements? The fool didn’t deserve it but I took pity on him. I’ve always been a sucker for the terminally pathetic. Besides, this was business. ‘Forget it,’ I growled. ‘Just bloody well stand up. You’re making the place look untidy. What do you want?’
His face was blank. ‘I beg your pardon?’
The man was clearly going to be hard work. ‘You called, I came,’ I patiently explained. ‘It’s what I do. Now what do you want? I left a perfectly good party to come here. The bishop was explaining why he thought it was a good idea to introduce pubescent choirboys to the finer points of Classical Greek culture. It promised to be most entertaining and he was only just getting warmed up.’
‘Crikey. Um, well – look here, do you know who I am?’
‘I do indeed, Mr Smith,’ I replied. ‘We do have newspapers where I come from. And television, unfortunately. No doubt you know who I am.’
‘Of course I do. I’m not stupid.’
Oh, but he was, irredeemably so. There’s nothing worse than a stupid man who thinks he’s clever. And this man possessed a stupidity finely honed and enlarged to monumental stature by wealth, Eton and Oxford. It went hand in glove with the heavily manicured ego and vastly inflated sense of self-worth. In other words, he was a true British toff – a master of nothing who was absolutely convinced that he was born to rule everything in his visual or conceptual range. People like him are also indefatigable windbags. When he opened his mouth to speak I held up a hand to stop him. If we didn’t cut to the chase I was going to be there all bloody night. ‘Long story short. You want to be Prime Minister, right? Please, don’t insult my intelligence by denying it. You’re a politician, for crying out loud. It goes with the territory – low on ability, huge on expectations. And with your background that also meant massive on sense of entitlement. So, what are you offering? And believe me, that flyweight bantam will not buy you anything more than my contempt.’
He prevaricated. His expression changed to that amalgam of schoolboy furtiveness and baffled desperation familiar from the media images. ‘Actually, I’m not so sure now. I mean, it’s a jolly big step, isn’t it? I don’t know if I should, not really.’
I shook my head. ‘Well, if that’s the way you want it, that’s fine by me. There’s a rather good single malt waiting for me at home. It’s traditional to toast a bishop, and that’s always fun. But take it from me, you’ll never be Prime Minister without a very big helping hand.’
Vanity pricked, he took umbrage. ‘Why not?’ he blustered.
‘Because you’re incompetent, insensitive, lazy and thick. You’re a liar and a cheat. And, because you’re such a shameless publicity hound who can’t even be arsed to adequately cover up his blunders and treacheries, everyone knows how selfish and unscrupulous you are. Sure, they like to laugh at you – but it’s obvious to anyone with eyes in their head that you’d be out of your depth in a toddler’s paddling pool, even if you wore stilts and a top hat. Alright, you can get away with that at a local level, up to a point. I daresay your party has plenty of dimwitted ladies who foolishly believe you might one day be so gracious as to ring their division bells, and more than a few low-charisma men in grey suits who think hanging out with you would make them shine a little brighter than totally dull. But do you honestly think you could con the entire country into supporting you as a candidate for Prime Minister? Even the British public isn’t that fucking dense.’
‘But people love me,’ he insisted. ‘All the opinion polls say how popular I am. I’ve worked jolly hard at my public persona and I know I’m popular.’
‘Coco the Clown was popular but for some reason I just can’t seem to recall his time in office. I’m telling you, Hell will freeze over before they vote you into Number Ten.’
‘Ah.’ The piggy eyes narrowed. The furtive look returned. He was cornered. I was his only option and he knew it. ‘Well, I suppose I should consider it. Oh, alright then. But can you do it?’
‘I’m the best PR man and fixer around,’ I told him. ‘Of course I can bloody do it. Now what are you offering in return?’ I was expecting the usual, but he surprised me.
‘Sixty-five million,’ he shot back. No hesitation. Sixty-five million. No conscience, either.
I was impressed. It was the best offer I’d had in years. Not even the Germans and Russians had given me that much. The tempter was sorely tempted, but it was important to know the detail before agreeing to anything. Caution was necessary. ‘That would buy you a heck of a lot of PR. What makes you think you can deliver the goods?’
‘It’s all about contracts,’ he said, now smugness personified. ‘Ours is a representative democracy. A general election is an unwritten contract between the nation and the man – or woman, though between you and me I think Margaret will prove to be a one-off – they put into Downing Street. The beauty of it is that it’s a contract mutually if tacitly agreed by everyone. The public agrees to abide by the ballot and elects a party to represent them. The elected party has agreed that one particular person will represent them in each constituency and make binding decisions in Parliament on their behalf. In practice, the elected members go along with the Cabinet, which does what the Prime Minister wants. In other words, one person, the Prime Minister, speaks and acts on behalf of everyone in the country, with the people’s full assent. So any contract I agree with you on a conditional basis will come into force immediately Her Majesty formally asks me to form a government. Sixty-five million, give or take a couple of thousand. All yours if you keep your side of the bargain.’
I thought about it. Legally, his argument was, I realised, watertight. A contract is a contract. This was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down. I extended my right hand. Who cared about a spot or two of blood and a few feathers? The suit would dry clean.
‘It’s a deal,’ I said. We shook on it. Blood was transferred from his hand to mine, sealing the transaction in the time-honoured gentlemanly way with the most important witness of all looking on, though my client seemed oblivious of the fact that my existence made that independent observer both logical and inevitable. Humans have an astonishing capacity for self-deception and a seemingly limitless supply of blind spots. Their innate stupidity helps. Smith had all those in spades.
‘What are you going to do?’
I stroked my extravagant goatee thoughtfully. ‘I have a few ideas. You’ve got a referendum on EU membership coming up, right? The first thing you do is declare for the Leave campaign, drive a wedge between party factions. After that, you do what you do best. Make a few outrageous statements, waffle like a simpleton, bluster like a country squire caught shagging the parson’s wife, and lie through your teeth. Let’s face it, you’ve already done the groundwork. Keep repeating the lies no matter what, and if anyone comes out with a contradictory fact you just accuse them of scaremongering or being unpatriotic. Enough people will believe you, because people always tend to believe the person who shouts loudest and keeps things so simple that they don’t have to waste time thinking about it when they could be in the pub or looking at porn on the internet. Meanwhile, I’ll make sure the Remain campaign is as limp and bland as the people fronting it. I also have another couple of irons in the fire that should help. Vote Leave will win and Cameron will stand down. Trust me, there will be a new Prime Minister by the end of the summer. That is my promise to you.’
For a moment I thought he was going to cry with joy. ‘Well, I must say that seems simple enough. Are you sure you can deliver your end of the bargain?’
I straightened and peered down my nose at him. He’s tall but I’m taller. And rather more imposing, what with my jutting beard and wicked dress sense. It’s the Italian suits. Handmade by a Pope’s former personal tailor, a good man with a needle and thread but not what you’d call a good man. ‘Please. Do not doubt me. I have a very long memory.’ Deliberately, I wiped the blood from hand onto his sleeve and prepared to go home.
‘So,’ he smiled, now childishly happy. ‘Will you need to see me again?’ He clearly hoped not.
I returned the smile with thermal interest. ‘Count on it.’
You know the rest. On the 23rd of June 2016 the people of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland narrowly voted, by 52% to 48%, to leave the European Union. It was only 38% of the registered electorate, and around a quarter of the country’s total population. Many of the voters didn’t really understand what they were voting for and hardly any knew anything more about what they were voting against than the lies and misinformation they read in the tabloids or heard from media pundits I would classify as probably clinically insane. In other words, a small but vocal, belligerent and bigoted minority got its own way. I don’t think that’s particularly democratic, but there you go. A contract is a contract.
I know what you’re thinking. Smith didn’t become Prime Minister, did he? No, it was Theresa May who became the new tenant of 10 Downing Street. So what happened? Did I renege on the deal?
Not at all. You all know me. I need no introduction. I’m a man of wealth and taste, the guy with all the best songs. My word is my bond. But I too am bound by a contract. My job is unique in the sense that I am contractually obliged to accept each and every deal that comes my way, even if they conflict. They want, I give, I take my payment. It’s a simple arrangement. And that obligation gave me a major headache in the run-up to the referendum. Smith was only the first to offer me exactly the same deal. In fact, I spent every midnight for a month appearing at deserted crossroads at the behest of politicians wanting to be Prime Minister – or party leader with an over-optimistic view to fulfilling the contract at a later date – in exchange for a deferred sixty-five million, including their own. And that doesn’t include the currency speculators, commodity brokers, and hedge fund managers; or the racists, xenophobes and fascists. Okay, those guys had rather less to offer than Smith and other the politicians, and in effect they’d already been donated. But I turn nobody away. Many a mickle makes a muckle, as the Scots say, and like the people who’ve been screwing your economy for decades, I always play both sides. It must have been a major shot in the arm for poultry farmers, but it was a terrible waste of chickens. Obviously the politicians couldn’t all be Prime Minister, could they? Not all at the same time; and quite a few would die before they got another opportunity. And not everyone can own the same dollar. But a deal is a deal.
Here’s the catch. You see, what those fools didn’t realise is that the mere act of making a deal with me is enough to damn them for all eternity even if I am unable to meet my side of the bargain. God is a very jealous guy, and despite what his hippie son says, he’s not what you’d call a forgiving deity. Far from it. You forsake him once and it’s fuck you and goodnight, fire and brimstone and torment forever, longer if possible. That’s the deal you sign up for when you say your first prayer. Christian, Muslim, Jew, it’s all the same: if you believe for even one second, you are in the game and have agreed to play by the house rules. And if you believe in me sufficiently to actively call upon my services, then you necessarily believe in Him. A contract is a contract, and this batch of clients was in too much of a hurry to bother with the small print. Amusingly, the ones with law degrees were the least careful. Fools rush in, and all that. I think you’ll agree that they all deserve what’s coming to them.
In the end I didn’t have to lift a finger. Brexit won the day but it did so because of voter apathy and my trusty old friends, human stupidity and unenlightened self-interest. The right-wing thugs were mine anyway, so all they’ll get is what was already coming to them; and the referendum result did those posh idiots and greedy bastards no good at all. Spectacular, wasn’t it? First, the economy threw itself off a tall building. Then the political parties tore themselves apart. A non-stop orgy of recrimination, betrayal, backstabbing and bitching as my clients jockeyed for position and generally fucked each other over. Smith was one of the early casualties when the nation shook itself free of the EU yoke and revealed its true, rotten colours. Yes, I know everyone thinks he and a few others didn’t do too badly out of it, but the history books will see it differently, I’m sure. The future is theirs to fuck up, and they will not disappoint. And after that? I’m really looking forward to seeing them all again, especially Smith. Big black cocks? I’ll give him big black cocks. I’m an equal opportunities employer and there are quite a few people of colour down there who still righteously resent those ‘picaninnies’ and ‘watermelon smiles’ jibes.
Anyway, I must dash. These are busy times. I have to make preparations for accommodating all those politicians. That’s on top of record numbers of Anglican and Catholic clergymen, a sudden influx of rock stars, a fistful of American presidential candidates, hundreds of blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em celebrities, an assortment of bankers, and quite a few overzealous but deluded Muslim men who are in for a rather nasty shock. Seventy-two virgins? After what they’ve done? No fucking chance. The best they’ll get will be a good rogering from John Wayne Gacey and his pals, several times a night from now until whenever. And, speaking of the devil, I really must do something about that paedophilic prelate. Not that he’s going anywhere. In fact, he seems wholly disinclined to move. Anyone would think I’d nailed his feet to the floor.
The biggest job, of course, is going to be ensuring there will be sufficient accommodation for all those souls Smith and his colleagues – yes, all of them – promised me. There’s plenty of space but the amenities will have to be upgraded and I’ll need to take on more staff. I’m thinking of trying out a new recruitment system I learned from the UK Civil Service – it’s always good to mix business with pleasure. But it’s going to mean a fair bit of hard graft and a shitload of paperwork. Work, work, work. There’s such a lot to do. It’s going to take forever.
But you can rest assured, I’ll be seeing you soon enough. All sixty-five million of you. A contract is a contract.