She was dead. Her body lay motionless like a carelessly dropped rag doll. One arm was tucked beneath her, the shoulder twisted unnaturally with unsightly lumps where bone pressed against flesh. Sat blankly on her wan face, her eyes were an infinite distance away, like the shadow of light left by an extinguished candle in a dark room. Her whole battered body was a monument to life departed.
The only motion in the room, now that life chose no longer to inhabit it, was the thoughtless trickling of blood down the hardwood steps between the leather clad pews. The lava flow of thick red liquid spread out into the vacant central reservation of the room, sitting in an accusing pool that would stain the boards forever.
The room was used to activity. It was used to being filled with shouting voices and barracking laughter. The speakers chair, the waiting pews, even the blank plain windows of the upper gallery crouched in anticipation of a commotion. They felt unnatural in the silence. Like the face of an unwound clock, expectation of movement and sound were as physical an attribute of the room as the walls themselves.
All the history of the room, all the famous powerful people who had sat in it, all the important decisions which had been made within it’s walls now drifted into obscurity. Now the room was empty of everything but a dead body; a dead body that would lie there for an eternity that stretched back into the past as well as the future.
Two days earlier, in a much plainer room that had no history painted upon its walls, a group of middle aged men huddled around an empty table. All were dressed in fine suits and highly polished shoes but, rather than standing out, each one looked like a poorly done copy of the man sat next to him. Any length of time spent with these men created an infinite spiral of depreciation.
Schroedinger told us that a cat, when subjected to the right conditions, could not be said to be either alive or dead until one observed it. Observation had a similar power on these men but, instead of determining their vitality, it slowly sucked away their quality. Before a watchers eyes, these men dressed in the finest cloth shrivelled and withered into the ghouls of ancient nightmares.
“That letter is going to sink the party. You all know it, if that gets out it’s not just our reputations on the line, it’s the whole damn party’s.” Said one of the men in a bright purple tie and dyed black hair. “We need to get it back and have it destroyed before it can cause any damage.”
“I don’t understand how this letter got out. It certainly didn’t come from my department, we made sure that none of these types of things could get out.” said a robust man with a ruddy face and straining belt buckle.
“I don’t think it matters.” replied the first man quietly. “However this letter has made it out, we need to get it back and have it destroyed before it destroys us. And the party”
“Well I certainly had nothing to do with it. I got rid of all my paperwork immediately. I know about paper trails.” Said a third man, the youngest in the room with pointed features and small excitable eyes. There was a moment of silence as all the men slowly worked out why they were not responsible for the current situation, eventually the purple tie clad man spoke again in his soft, smooth voice.
“I suggest we release a press statement this afternoon, get it onto the front page for tomorrow morning.”
“A retraction?” said the young man unassuredly.
“No, not at a retraction, that would be admitting we had something to do with the letter. Nor a denial, because then everyone would assume that we did have something to do with the letter. No, we need to do something that keeps our enemies at bay, something that makes them decide to wait a day or two before going to the press. Perhaps a lesser scandal?”
“Getting caught screwing a goat would be a lesser scandal.” Said another man, his voice deep and cut with gravel. He was leaning back in his chair with his eyes closed. If he had been from the wild west he would have had a hat tilted over his face, but the public didn’t like men in hats these days so instead he draped his elbow over his eyes.
“Is that an offer” smirked the portly gentleman. “It’s more believable than you shaggin’ that blonde work experience lass they accused you of last year.”
“You’ve never been involved in a sex scandal, have you Charles?” came a growled reply. “That must be down to believability too, don’t you think?”
“I’m just too good to get caught.” snapped Charles, his chins wobbling with aggression.
“Oh I see, your wife mentioned something about you not lasting long. I put it down to inexperience, I didn’t realise it was a practised technique to avoid getting caught.”
“Gentleman, please” said purple tie firmly. “Let us not squabble now, we don’t have time. A sex scandal is too personal, I think we need something a bit more… departmental” this last word was said in such a way that every syllable rang out and bounced off the whitewashed walls.
“My departments been rock solid.” Said the young man quickly, not thinking as his tongue leapt forward. “We were in the papers only last week saying how we’d been making great progress towards our targets.” Everyone looked at him, their eyes hungry.
“Which paper?” asked purple tie with a snap.
“The Guardian, why?” replied the young man cautiously.
“Lost disk on the train.” Chortled Charles as if requesting his favourite song from a rock group. He leant back and let his belly slip out over the top of his trousers even further, not seeming to notice that one of the gaps between his shirt buttons was now exposing a large square of his pale skin.
“Too subtle.” said purple tie.
“Falsified figures.” Said the man with a deep voice, a sudden grin blossoming under his arm. The smile was infectious and soon the whole room was covered in them, except for one pale young face.
The young minister’s face was still white. The story had been leaked to the media and every newspaper had smattered it across their front page in big font and large amounts of exclamation marks. The foreign secretary had insisted it would be fine, that all he had to do was push the blame on to his advisor and he’d be able to ride the wave. But the press had apparently got to the prime minister before the foreign secretary. The prime minister hadn’t even said that he had his full support.
By the time the evening papers had been printed, his name was trashed. He had become the political bogeyman in twelve hours. His career had been dashed to the floor and trampled over by herds of poorly dressed, poorly educated and poorly mannered reporters. They weren’t even journalists, they were reporters.
The prime minster looked up at the young man standing in front of him. He shuffled a few papers on his desk and then glanced out of the window for a moment as if he were remembering where he’d left his house keys. Finally he swung his eyes back round to the young minister and covered him with an election winning smile.
“So,do you want to tell me what’s been going on?”
“Prime minister, I…” started the young man but his elder statesman held up his hand, almost apologetically.
“It’s obviously too much of a shit storm for us to pull you out now, but you are young. You have plenty of time to climb back up the ladder. I just want you to think about that as you tell me what has been happening.”
“It was, you see…” again the prime minister’s hand raised up and the young man fell silent, his thin features looking withered and faintly tinged with green.
“We all make mistakes. We’ve all, say, not had a tight enough reign on our civil servants and let them run away with the department. We’ve all been there, we’ve all made that mistake. No one’s blaming you, no one thinks this is your fault. Things like this,” The prime minister waved his hand to indicate the inconvenience of life in general, “they just happen. We don’t blame you. At the moment, we all think we just put a bit too much pressure on you, that your maturity shielded us from how young you really are.
“Youthfulness, inexperience, even incompetence, these can be cured by time. What can’t be cured is disloyalty. What can’t be cured is a man who doesn’t know that what is best for the party might not always be what is best for him, but that it is the party that is important.”
The room fell silent save for the clicking of a large grandfather clock. Reality had vanished. All that was left was a swirling blur of papers and furniture, windows and history books, letters and signatures. The young minister felt dizzy. Beneath him a large black pit was opening up and he felt compelled to throw himself down it, despite being petrified of the inevitable fall. He opened his mouth to say something, but through his distorted vision he could see the prime minister’s hand raised once again.
“Thank you minister. I think we both understand now and I look forward to you serving in my cabinet again one day. I will make a press release that says words to that effect. Your service has been most” the prime minster paused and glanced out the window again. He watched a cloud drift past like a lazy bumblebee before returning his gaze on the trembling man before him, “helpful. You may leave.”
“Thank you prime minster,” muttered the shaking man, “I’m sorry sir. Thank you.”
(story continues in here: Last Days of Office (part II))