A saga of everyday life in the Big L and a wry look at contemporary culture
Quinn closed the door and headed down the street. She made for the tube stop. After walking several minutes, she emerged at the Angel. Others were converging on the entrance. She joined them, on the way picking up a Metro from a stand. Just for the fun bits. She swiped her card on the reader and joined the crowd taking the escalator down to the platform. As usual on a weekday rush hour, this was crowded with commuters—but she also spotted one or two tourists. She looked up at the platform indicators. Next train 3 minutes. Not long, then.
Her attention strayed to the large poster opposite. A man yielding a sword was heading towards a gap between two ruined buildings. Lohengrin. Isn’t that Wagner? He was a Nazi, wasn’t he? What’s with the man and the sword? Isn’t it supposed to be a romance? It looks more like a post-apocalyptic WW3 scene than someone in love.
The train arrived, blocking her view. She joined the press of people trying to get on. It made for a tight squeeze.
As the train gathered speed and entered the tunnel, she managed to open her newspaper at a random page. It featured a section called “Rush-Hour Crush”. One entry caught her eye.
“To the blond beauty with the mesmerizing blue eyes in the white blouse and black skirt and jacket on the District and Circle Line. We both got off at Westminster but shared glances and cheeky looks along the journey. Drink? [Admirer]” That could be me. But I don’t share cheeky looks with people.
She found herself looking at the other passengers. The women she quickly passed over, but her eyes lingered a moment longer on the men. A twenties-something, with cavalier locks and wearing a black leather jacket appealed to her. He’s got green eyes. She looked at him more closely. What a beautiful face you have. Her gaze lingered.
He returned her look.
There was a jolt. She was flung forward onto another passenger as the train squealed to a stop. What?
The lights went out. Oh no!
The emergency lights flicked on. Shit, what’s happened? The carriage was now only dimly lit.
She disentangled herself from the woman she had barreled into. ‘Sorry.’
A crackly voice came over the tannoy. ‘Sorry about the emergency stop. I hope everyone’s alright. There’s been a power failure.’ The voice paused. ‘I don’t know how long we’re going to be here but try to remain calm. Help will be on the way. It should arrive shortly.’ That’s very reassuring—or not.
There was a buzz of conversation. People shuffled around. Someone opened one of the air vents. A man did an elaborate dance as he removed his jacket.
‘Are you alright?’ It was the green-eyed man.
‘Me?’ I’m fine; surely you can see that?
‘Well, you seemed to take quite a knock when we stopped.’ Well, I didn’t. He smiled at her in the half light. Are you trying to chat me up?
‘It was so unexpected.’ Keep calm.
‘I always hold on. Lucky for me I did.’ He grinned. ‘I’m Eddie.’ Hello, Eddie.
‘It’s Irish; it means wise.’
‘Nice. Much more exotic then than Edmund—or Eddie.’ Well, I wouldn’t class Ireland as exotic; that is, unless you consider the Emerald Isle to be beyond the Pale.
‘I think my father gave it to me because he wanted me to be a boy.’ So, he could pretend. There, I’ve told you a dark secret.
His eyes flicked up and down examining her. ‘You don’t look boyish to me.’ Yeah, I can see you find me attractive. Sex object. That’s it.
‘I suppose not.’ She giggled.
‘What’s so funny?’
The lights came on. There was a shudder and the train moved forward. Quinn smiled at the man but didn’t answer him. Well, we’re moving now and it’s back to the normal silent running.
Within a few moments they entered the station. She got off and headed for the District and Circle Line. Someone grabbed her arm. What? It was the leather jacketed guy with the green yes. ‘Here, in case you’d like to meet up for a coffee.’ He crammed a hand-written note with a mobile number on it.
‘Err, I…’ What do I say? What do I say? He dashed off. ‘Thanks—I think.’ What do I do now? Oh yeah! Swipe left! She screwed up the sheet and stuffed it into her pocket.
She continued walking and made for the Westbound platform. Finding a spot, she idly gazed across at the other platform. Then she heard the music that wafted across. The busker was there, playing away. You do this all the time, don’t you? I guess you make enough from playing to passengers to make it worthwhile. It’s a bit like having birds singing in the trees. No one seems to pay for it. But it must give you something.
Her train came. She fought her way in and opened her Metro to continue her reading.
She nearly missed her stop.
Making her way to the rear of Number Ten, she was about to pass through security when Aiden sprinted up.
‘Hi. Glad I caught you.’ You haven’t.
‘I’m not a prize to be won.’ What are you thinking? Just because there’s a truce between us?
He made a face and gestured an apology. ‘Just a way of speaking. If I’ve offended you, I’m sorry. I thought we were friends now?’ Well, it’s a truce—not a peace treaty. Like North and South Korea—get it? We’re not lovey-dovey.
‘Well, Katy Perry’s coming to the 02 and I wondered if you’d like to go? I’m getting tickets.’ With you? I like the idea of seeing her—perhaps Dancy would go. But then again, it’s just Bach with him. He wouldn’t like the noise.
‘I’ll think about it.’ That’s a no, by the way.
‘I’ll get two tickets, then.’ Hey, don’t bother.
‘Well, if you have someone in mind.’
She presented her ID and went through security; he followed her through. Go; not go? Which is it? I’d love to see her. I’m still disappointed I missed her previous tour. I was mad about that. Clarissa gloated about having seen her. I couldn’t stand having her doing that again. I’ll contact Dancy and see if he wants to go. If he doesn’t, well…Clarissa?
‘Ah, got you both.’ Carberry was striding down the corridor in their direction. Uh-huh! Looks like trouble.
‘Morning.’ What do you want?
‘There’s a bit of a flap on and I need some quick fact gathering.’
She briefly caught Adrian’s eye. Tell him you’re busy doing something for the PM. Go on!
‘What is it?’ Just say no! Don’t encourage him.
‘N.I. The whole abortion business. The DUP are making dire threats. I’ve told the PM they’re just posturing. But, naturally, she’s worried. Without them, Cotton could be in here double quick. Hence the PM needs a feel about the underlying mood there on this and whether the grassroots support the DUP position.’
‘I thought Labour’s poll ratings were falling?’ Surely, they’d be hard pressed to win an election?
He frowned at her. ‘I see you don’t understand the situation. Typical.’ Hey! Just because I’m new here… He waged a finger at an imaginary diagram on the wall. ‘If we lose a no confidence because the DUP pull out of our agreement, it doesn’t necessarily mean an automatic election. Protocol dictates that the Queen would ask Cotton to see if he can form a government. Only if that fails will there be fresh elections. We can’t risk losing the DUP over the Irish vote. Gives that little Marxist shit a run at taking power.’
‘Well…,’ I’ve got things to do. This is the last thing I want to do. You’re exploiting us.
‘Give me a one-pager by three PM. I’ve a meeting with the PM at four. Got it?’
‘You’ll have it at three.’ Traitor!
‘See you do.’ He strode off down the corridor before passing from sight.
She put her hands on her hips and turned on him. ‘Why did you agree? He’s just using us.’ You’re toadying up to him. I thought better of you.
‘Don’t take it so bad. Besides, he’s powerful and influential around here. Honestly, Quinn, he’s not a good man to cross. Besides, I think we can easily do it.’ Us? Is it about us? Is that it?
‘So, how do we do this?’ This is your area. I’m a history graduate, remember.
‘All we need to do is a bit of desk stuff and perhaps some telephone interviews with people in Northern Ireland to get a feel of grassroots views.’ And here I was thinking that I would have an easy day.
‘Well, first off, I’m going to get a coffee.’ I’m going to need several. And don’t you dare ask me to get you one. He didn’t.
‘Swing by my desk afterwards.’ You’ve set me up; you can sweat on this.
Still seething, she headed for the kitchen. Empty. Good. She made herself a latte and was about to leave when Morton strolled in.
‘Hi!’ The toad. Shit!
He looked her up and down, not seeking to hide his actions. ‘You know, Quinn, that blouse you’re wearing today is really sexy. Shows off your boobs a treat. Some of the other guys were talking about the way they’re like two ripe melons.’ He clasped his hands to his chest as if he were holding melons against it. ‘You should do more with them. We’d love that.’ Why you!
‘Piss off, you pervert.’
He gawped. ‘You don’t talk to senior people like that.’
‘You disgust me.’ She flung her coffee at him. It splattered on his hands and chest. There! That’s what I think of you.
He screamed. Bloody right it hurts. Pity I didn’t get your gonads.
She brushed past him and fled towards her workstation.
* * *
‘What a stupid title.’
‘DEXEU. You know, Department for Exiting the European Union.’ She turned to Adrian, who was taking notes of the meeting. ‘Minute the fact we should look to a name change for the department.’
‘PM, if I may say so, you authorised the name.’ So, I did. Why did I agree to it? What was I thinking? Oh, yeah. I was railroaded into the name. She looked over to the portrait of Margaret Thatcher above her desk. I’ve been wondering how you managed to deal with all the bastards that wanted to sink your projects? Or was it much easier in your day? The portrait said nothing.
‘The question Chris is, what are we going to do about Bernard; him and his demands we sort the Northern Ireland border?’
‘We’re making good progress on other matters. Not everyone’s like Bernard. The froggies are trying to make sure they do well in the final agreement. However, the Germans for all their huffing and puffing are keen to maintain their current trade with us; as are the Dutch.’
‘Can’t we use them as leverage with Bernard? After all, they’ve got a lot to lose if there isn’t an agreement.’ We can’t just allow them to push us around like this.
‘Bernard runs a tight ship and is fully aware of what we are trying to do.’ He’s a smug froggie who thinks he can just walk all over us.
‘Well, it’s your job to make sure you succeed.’ Or else—but you know that don’t you. She caught him eyeing her desk and chair. Of course, you’d like to sit there and take my place. But this lady’s not for evicting. I can see right through your little game. I know you leaked the way the cabinet split on the matter of agreeing to abide by EU standards. No one else had a motive. And now the customs business. You’re one of those bastards that John Major warned me about.
‘PM let me be frank.’ Ha! So, what lies are you now going to peddle now? What little advantage are you seeking? ‘It’s now less than a year to L Day.’ 293 days to be exact, Chris. I’ve got the countdown running on my computer. 29 March 2019 at 11pm. ‘We need to settle quite a few things by then. We really should keep it simple. Simply taking up some of their suggestions…’
‘NO!’ Chris jumped at her outburst. ‘It’s my Brexit and I won’t have any damn upstart froggy ruining it. We do it my way—is that understood?’ He’s afraid of them! Can I kick him out and get someone with some real balls? Let me see…
‘Of course, PM, as you say, PM. We have our agreed red lines. I was only suggesting…’ His voice trailed off. You just want a simple deal—roll over and play dead at Bernard’s feet—so you can put your hat in the ring after triumphing our success. But I won’t have it. This is Mary Pyle’s Brexit, not Chris Christoph’s!
She went over to Adrian and looked at what he had been writing. ‘Delete that last bit.’
‘Of course, PM.’ He scratched out the last entry.
A siren went off. Three long blasts.
Adrian jumped to his feet. His notepad dropped to the floor. ‘Terrorist attack!’
‘What do we do?’ Chris made for the door.
‘We wait.’ He stopped. If death is coming, there’s such a thing as British sang froid. Looking death in the eye. Like General Gordon did at Khartoum when confronting the Dervishes.
A moment later, two burly men wearing body armour and totting MP5s charged into her office. One of the men gesticulated wildly. ‘Come on PM, we gotta get you to safety.’ For a moment there, I thought you were terrorists.
The other man stood, gun at the ready at the door, keeping an eye on the corridor. ‘All’s clear.’
Fred left his position at the door and stepped out into the corridor gun half-levelled.
‘Go.’ The agent tapped Mary’s shoulder. Wouldn’t it be safer to stay here? She followed Fred. He advanced warily, head turning this way and that, searching for any intruders. I bet Margaret didn’t have to do this. Adrian was behind her and Chris took up the rear. We make a pretty target for some suicide bomber, don’t we. The other agent tailed them.
With Fred in the lead, they headed towards the back of Number Ten. There was no one about. Where is everybody? Fred led them down a flight of stairs to the basement. A policeman was there. When he heard them, he pointed his gun in their direction. He lowered it when he saw who they were.
‘All secure here?’
The policeman nodded.
Fred gave the room a quick inspection. He tested the doors. They were locked. He turned to the policeman. ‘Do you know what’s going on?’
‘Not sure. But seems like someone got into the garden.’ His radio burst into life and a stream of incomprehensible sounds emerged. The policeman pressed a button. ‘Roger that.’
Fred had a quick whisper with the other agent who had now joined them.
He came over to her. ‘PM, we’re going to try and take you out the front.’ He gestured at the policeman. ‘You’re with us. Follow me.’
The party now headed for the main door and Downing Street.
They quickly made it to the entrance hall. Well, so far so good. I haven’t heard any explosions or shooting.
As Fred went to open the front door, it flew open. Four policemen in full battle kit charged in. They came to a halt when they spotted them. It’s just like in one of those action movies.
A sergeant gave them the thumbs up. ‘We were told there’s intruders in here.’
Fred pointed at the way they had come. ‘They’re attacking the rear.’
‘Got yah.’ The leader waved at the door to the back. ‘This way.’
The policemen rushed off into the building.
The agent gestured at the open door. ‘We’d better go.’ He motioned with his carbine. ‘Fred, check it out.’
Fred cautiously peered out. If anyone is waiting to get us, we’ll be sitting ducks in the street.
‘All clear.’ Gun at the ready, he stepped outside. Mary made to follow him when the policeman’s communicator burst into life. This time she could not mistake what it said.
‘Stand down. False alarm. Stand down.’
The agent looked at the constable. ‘Can we trust that?’
‘There’s an authentication code.’ He looked at his walkie-talkie. ‘Zebra, Alpha, Romeo, Zero, Four.’
Fred came back in. ‘Flap’s over. They got him.’ Only one?
‘Who was it?’
‘It’s some nutter from Fathers4Justice.’ All this because of some crazed parent. What’s the country coming to?
The agent turned to Mary. ‘We will escort you back to your room.’ So, it’s all’s well that ends well, then. Wish that could be the Brexit negotiations.
To be continued…
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.
Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.