‘Time to get up, sleepyhead.’
‘Can’t I just lie here?’
‘No, Andrew, it’s time you were up and off.’ Awe, come-on, Jill; it’s not as if I’ve got to get to work.
‘But it’s a Saturday!’
‘So?’ She pulled the blind up. ‘The sun’s up. It’s time you left.’ So that’s it. I’m being kicked out. It hasn’t lasted long, has it? What about last night? You seemed to enjoy that.
‘Are you angry with me?’
‘No, of course not. But I’ve got things to do today.’ Like what? It’s your day off. We could just loll in bed and read the papers. And…
‘Oh, very well then.’ He got out of bed and went off to the bathroom.
A quick shower later, he returned to the bedroom. Jill was no longer there. Well, you certainly want to be up, don’t you. What’s the hurry? He found his discarded clothes and got dressed.
He went looking. She was in the kitchen fixing breakfast. ‘Muesli or porridge?’
She passed him a bowl and the packet. He served himself and got up and found a milk cartoon in the fridge. He sniffed it to check it was still OK before pouring it on his cereal. Jill placed a spoon beside him. ‘I’d be pleased if you’d eat it quickly and be off.’ What? After last night, that it. Just like that. I thought we were an item.
‘Fine, fine, if that’s what you want.’ He tucked into his gruel.
He was just about finished when the doorbell rang.
‘Bollocks. Stay here.’ Uh?
Jill rushed off towards the front door, closing the kitchen door behind her as she went out. He could hear her talking to someone but could not discern what they were saying. It sounded as if they were having an argument. It’s probably an irate neighbour. I didn’t think we made that much noise last night. She’ll get me if she needs help. He finished off the last of his cereal, deposited the bowl in the sink and headed towards the front door.
He stepped out into the corridor only to find Jill facing off against a man he was dressed in a suit and held a travel bag in one hand. They both stopped talking and looked at him when he appeared.
‘Who are you?’
Before he could say anything, Jill butted in.
‘Andrew. He’s a friend. Popped in to drop something off. We were having a cup of coffee when you arrived.’ You’re lying. What’s going on here? ‘He’s just leaving.’
‘Yeah. Got to go. Nice to meet you.’ He brushed past them and opened the door and let himself out before closing it behind him. What was all that about?
He descended the stairs and out the front door and made his way to the nearest bus stop. Luck was with him as a bus appeared just as he got there. He joined the trio of people who had been waiting as they boarded the bus then followed them. He tapped his Oyster card to pay his fare before seeking a seat on the upper deck.
He slid into a window seat and gazed out at the street and shops below him. The bus moved off. So, what just happened? Why was Jill behaving so strangely? I can’t get my head around her change of attitude. When we first met she was all over me. This morning it’s as if I’d broken her glass menagerie, or something. Who was the man? Did he have something to do with it? She didn’t introduce me to him even though she seemed to know him. Was it her ex? Wait… He pulled out his phone and checked the time. 9:34. He’ll be up, sure. He tapped Tim’s number. After a moment, he could hear it connect and start to ring.
‘Hi, Andrew. What gives?’
‘I am hoping you can help me.’
‘Sure thing. What can I do?’
Well, you know about Jill and me, yes?’
He could hear Tim laugh. ‘As if! It was so totally obvious she’d got her talons into you at the horse parade.’
‘You’re kidding me. I thought we were being discreet.’
‘Ha, ha, ha. She’s my sister, remember.’ She told me they were competing. Of course! She told him.
‘So, you know about our relationship.’
‘Yes. It isn’t as if it isn’t obvious. Besides, we share many things—including lovers.’ Oh! She did say she was competing for me against you. I thought she was joking. ‘She’s a free spirit, Andrew.’
‘Does that mean she’s not interested in a serious relationship?’
‘Andrew, Andrew, you have to understand my sister is into polyamory.’ But she didn’t ask me if I liked the idea.
‘Tim, thanks for the gen. I’ve a lot to think about.’
‘Hey, enjoy the ride.’
‘Okay. Let’s meet soon to catch up.’
‘Great idea. Bye.’ He hung up.
* * *
Aiden walked around the corner and nearly ran into Quinn. He stepped back out of her personal space and was startled by what he saw. She’s really changed the way she dresses since she started here. She looks totally stunning. ‘That’s a nice outfit, Quinn.’
She gave him a haughty look. ‘F—off Aiden.’ Hey come on. What’s got into you? Is it that time of the month or has the PM being riling you again?
‘No need to be rude. I was just trying to be pleasant.’
‘That wasn’t rude. I can show you what rude is. Just don’t get me started.’ Aiden spotted Carberry coming along the corridor. Pith, it wouldn’t do for us to be swearing at each other.
‘Can it. Here comes Carberry.’ Aiden noticed Quinn startle and check over her shoulder. He scares you, doesn’t he? Bet he does. He’s got his tentacles into everything around here and you jump when he says jump; you’ve learned that haven’t you? Even the daughter of the great Harcourt-Smithers must kowtow to this little Hitler.
‘Ha! There you are; just the people I was looking for.’ He paused a moment. ‘I wasn’t interrupting anything was I?’ He smirked at them. What do you think? Quinn and I kissing? We’re arguing, can’t you see that? It isn’t anything you’d want to be part of. Or maybe you’d enjoy the show? Why don’t you pull up a seat and you can award points as we verbally spar?
‘No. Not at all.’
Quinn held up her mug. ‘I was on my way to the coffee machine.’
‘I won’t stop you. Get me a cup while you’re there and then meet me in the small meeting room. You too, Adrian. Something’s come up and I need you to help me out.’
Carberry stomped off towards the PM’s office without bothering to wait for their reply.
Without thinking, Adrian spoke out loud. ‘He sounded unhappy. I wonder what’s up?’
Quinn gave him a withering look. ‘It’s the elections, stupid. I bet it’s this Windrush business.’
‘How do you know?’
Quinn smiled. ‘You hear things. Stories. Gossip, really.’ She marched off towards the kitchen. He made his way to the meeting room via his desk, where he picked up his tablet and a notebook. He was the first to get there so chose his preferred seat and made himself comfortable. The first person at a meeting, owns the meeting.
Carberry arrived sporting a grim face and took a seat near the door. Then Quinn with the two coffees. She placed one in front of him. ‘Thanks.’
Quinn found a place halfway between the two men and sat down. There was a momentary silence as she sipped her coffee. Then she looked at him. Aiden smiled back at her. She quickly looked away. Ha! Wasn’t that the edge of smile on your face? You’re cooling down. Great.
Carberry tapped the table. ‘Well, now we are all here, we can get started. It won’t take long and then you can get right at it.’ He consulted his notebook. ‘You’re familiar with the Windrush generation, yes?’ What do you think? Do you believe we’ve been closeted in a hermitage these last few days? ‘Well that particular pile of sh1t has certainly hit the fan and we’re being sprayed with it. The PM wants all the policy options on the issue by 3pm today so she can go on the six-o-clock news. It’s your job to research the brief. We’ll meet again after lunch to turn them into a policy memo.’ $%£^, it’s 11.20. That means we’re going to have to work through our lunch hour. ‘A few lines on each will do. Obviously include the usual fare but also try to be creative. Windrush is a real mess and it’s got the PM rattled. After all, it’s a Home Office screw up.’ Yeah, she was in charge when they f—up, that’s what you’re saying, isn’t it? It’s her fault and she’s desperate to prevent it spinning out of control. Well, that’s what happens when you make stupid decisions.
‘We’ll do our best.’
‘Thank you, Quinn. I know you will. I’m sure your father would be proud of your “can do” attitude.’ Ha! What about me? You’re just sucking up to her because she’s the chairman’s daughter. Toad. ‘Right, I’ll let you two get started. Don’t hesitate to consult me if you need any help. I’d like to be involved but I’ve got to work on how we massage our backbenchers.’ As if! All you’re worried about is not looking bad when you’ve got to meet the PM. It’s your reputation you’re worried about, isn’t it? We do the heavy lifting and you get the credit. I bet our names won’t be on it.
‘Of course, but I’m sure we can do this.’
‘Adrian, it’s great to hear you say that.’ Yes, the fact I’m toadying up to you makes you feel “epic”, doesn’t it? Adrian had a vision of Carberry riding in a car having purchased cheap car insurance. Loud triumphant rock music accompanied the image. You’ve no idea. I hope someone takes you down.
Carberry got up and headed for the door. He stopped just inside and turned to them. ‘Two-thirty. My office. To review your proposals.’
Carberry went out the door, leaving it open. Adrian got up and closed it. He returned to his seat. He turned his attention to Quinn. ‘What a toad. We get the shitty stuff of developing the policies and he gets the kudos from presenting them to the PM.’
She returned his gaze defiantly. ‘What were you expecting? You can quit, you know. Why don’t you walk out now?’ It’s good to know where you stand Quinn.
‘Yeah, I could. But I think I’ll survive this, this time, so I’ll just get on with it. I want a career in politics, so I can’t simply quit.’ He locked eyes with her. You really are very attractive, aren’t you? ‘What about you?’
‘I suppose you think I’m a snowflake and will wilt in the heat.’ Well, it had crossed my mind. ‘I’m as committed as you are.’ Hey, the pig was committed, the chicken was involved. Aren’t you the chicken in this bacon and eggs feast? I suppose I’m just going to have to make the best of your lukewarm support.
‘We’d better get to work then. What do you want to do? Look at the legal aspects or research how other countries have handled immigrant issues?’ He tapped the screen to activate his tablet.
‘I’ll do legal.’ What? I wasn’t expecting that.
‘Oh fine. Did you study law, then?’ Tell me a bit about yourself, Quinn. I don’t really know too much about you other than the office gossip. Important father, money and, hah, privilege. But you’re here rather than at some make-work job in the City. You’re a bit of an enigma, really. You took against me when we first met so I haven’t been able to get a word in edgewise, let alone find out anything about you. In truth, I hardly know you.
‘No. But I worked on a legislative proposal for the PM when I first started here, so I have some sense of what the legal issues might be.’
‘Right, that’s super. I’ll do the comparative analysis then.’
It was an hour later when he felt the need to go to the toilet. Then his phone pinged. He pulled it out and checked it. Oh yes, the tickets. He opened a new webpage on his tablet and ordered the tickets he needed. He pulled out his wallet to find his debit card to pay for the purchase.
‘Got time to do a bit of online shopping have we?’ Yes, Quinn. This is something I’ve just got to do.
‘It’s tickets for a gig. If I don’t buy them when they come available, they’ll be gone.’
‘What are you going to see?’
‘Feed the Machine.’
‘Never heard of them.’
‘That’s the name of the tour. The band’s called Nickelback. I guess you haven’t heard of them. Feed the Machine is the name of their latest album. But it’s also the name of their world tour. They’re playing the O2. I’m a fan. Have been since I was a kid. I want to see them live.’
‘I’ve never heard them. What do they sound like?’
He laughed. ‘They’re a pop-rock band. What do you think they sound like? They’re the world’s most hated band.’
‘They’re that bad? And you want to go and see them?’ She cocked her head as she spoke.
‘They’re one of the most brilliant bands around.’
Quinn slapped his hand. ‘You’re just messing with me.’
‘No, no, I wouldn’t do that. Saying you hate the band is just saying you lke them. It’s just OK to say that. I mean who can honestly say they like Chad? He looks a bit like a singing poodle. He’s a bit of a joke.’
She giggled. ‘You’ve piqued my interest. I’m just going to have to listen to them.’
‘I think you’ll like them.’
‘After what you said, I won’t be able to take them seriously.’
‘Who does? They don’t take themselves seriously but their music is good and they do a lot for their fans. Their gig promises to be awesome.’
‘I’m sure.’ She touched the screen of the notebook in front of her. ‘How are you doing on the comparisons?’
‘Mostly done. You know, it’s funny how most countries end up with the same immigration policies. People think we treat immigrants badly here, don’t they? It seems France has just tightened the rules and made life harder for their immigrants. And Germany. Well, they took in a million, didn’t they? They’re now busily kicking a good many out on various pretexts. They’ve changed the rules to make it harder to get in and stay. In fact, pretty much everyone has it in for immigrants. It’s how they present it that seems to make the difference to how the country is perceived. Australia interned their boat people on a remote island. Did you know it would be virtually impossible for us to immigrate to Australia?’
‘Does it matter? I don’t think I’d want to go there.’
‘Why ever not? It’s warm, the country is booming, and they drive on the left.’
‘Is that a condition of where you’d like to move to? That they drive on the same side of the road as us?’
‘Once Britain and Australia used to be so close and we could have just moved over there, no problem. But since we opted to be part of the EU they’ve drifted away and now Brits are treated like everyone else. Didn’t I hear somewhere they planned to ditch the Queen as head of state?’
‘I didn’t know she was their head.’
‘It’s the old British empire bit. Empress of India, ruler of…I don’t know where, Tonga and Guyana.’
‘Well, that’s all in the past, isn’t it? Now listen, time’s running out. We’ve got to get our list together and present them to Carberry, ASAP.’
‘I suppose so.’