Episode Thirty Three
‘We have a deal.’ Mary plucked a petal from the flower. ‘We don’t have a deal.’ She plucked another one. ‘We have a deal.’
There was a thumping and Des blundered into her office.
‘What are you doing here? I gave strict instructions not to be disturbed.’
‘Wafsh ish Ijh amsh?’
‘It’s disgusting. You’re slurring your words.’
‘Sosjh?’ He staggered over to the settee and collapsed. He righted himself and stared at her. ‘Welsh?’
‘Whatcha doing?’ He pointed at the pile of petals on the floor.
‘Oh that.’ With her foot, she shuffled the petals under her desk. ‘Nothing.’
‘The lasht time you did sthat was on our …’ Des put his hand to his head, ‘… ooh, it ‘urts it does.’ He squinted at her. ‘Zats it! Our honeshmoon!’
‘I think you should go off to bed.’
‘Youz comin?’ He looked hopeful.
‘I think you should sleep in the visitor’s room tonight.’
‘Pish, don’t I alwash…’ He lay back on the sofa. In a moment, he began to snore.
She looked at him and shook her head, then pressed a buzzer on her desk.
A moment later there was a knock at the door.
A man entered and looked around. He spotted Des lying on the sofa.
‘You wanna me to see ‘im to bed.’
‘If you don’t mind. He was his old school reunion and I think they celebrated in style.’
‘ ‘e’ll ‘ave a beaut of a ben dover tamorrah.’
‘I’m sure he will.’
The man pulled Des upright and he partly came to. ‘Come-ze mate.’ With some difficulty, he led him out the door. It remained partly open.
There was a knock. Adrian popped his head around the door. ‘PM, you available?’
‘Who wants to see me?’
‘Ralston is here and hoped to have a word with you.’
‘I suppose so. Send him in.’
Adrian’s head disappeared. There was a conversation outside, but Mary couldn’t hear what was being said.
A knock. Ralston stepped in.
‘Good of you PM to see me. I was just having a meeting with Carberry.’ He stopped and sniffed.
‘Is there something wrong?’
‘There’s a funny smell in here.’
‘Well, to be honest, it reminds me of a downmarket pub.’
‘I’ll tell the manager. Perhaps we’ve got vermin. We’ll get Larry to sniff around a bit.’
‘Will he cooperate? Cat’s aren’t renowned for taking orders. A bit like herding the PP, isn’t that so PM?’
‘I think cats are easier.’ Mary indicated a chair. ‘Make yourself comfortable at least. You look awkward standing there.’
‘Of course, PM, of course.’ Ralston sat where indicated.
‘What did you want to see me about?’
‘Well, PM, I have a brilliant idea about how to rescue the Plan.’
‘I see. I trust it isn’t having a second referendum.’
‘Oh, lord no! You’ve made it perfectly clear we’re not re-opening that can of worms. You and I agree that wouldn’t be good at all.’
‘But a head of steam is building up. Just look at The Independent! Banging on about the will of the people—and all that.’
‘PM, listen, I’ve got this suggestion. What if we ask the EU for the Swiss model?’
‘The Swiss model? What follow the land of chocolate boxes and cuckoo clocks?’
‘Why yes. They have a land border with the EU and they rub along together swimmingly, if you get my drift.’
‘Didn’t they negotiate every single point of access with the EU separately and that the Commission is now trying to put in place a comprehensive agreement instead of the rag-tag of sector, industry and I don’t know what treaties.’
‘But don’t you see, PM, that’s the beauty of it. We can work with the Swiss on making it all happen. They win. We win.’
‘Jeremy, we have till the end of March to get this sorted. No, not even that for some things.’ She gesticulated at a huge pile of documents in her in-tray. ‘That stack there are all the individual agreements that have to be worked out.’
‘I’m sure most of them are simply a case of agreeing to agree—or agreeing to disagree.’
‘You’re an optimist, aren’t you even after your sessions with Bernard?’
‘I talked to him about how time is pressing last weekend. He would like to wrap it all up pronto.’
Mary gave him a quizzical stare.
‘Oh, I know what the press said. Only an hour and we didn’t get his OK for the Plan. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t got the greenlight for most things. I would say we’re ninety-five percent there.’
‘But it’s the five percent that has the potential to blow up everything.’
‘That’s where the Swiss model is so brilliant. We can salami slice the agreement and get those bits Bernard and the Commission warm to all agreed now. We can then settle the rest in good time.’
‘And what still needs to be sorted? I seem to recall,’ she reached into her huge pile and pulled out a large dossier, ‘that customs arrangements are a contentious issue.’ She pulled out another folder. ‘And travel.’ Then two more. ‘There’s financial regulation.’ She slammed one of the folders down on her desk. ‘And the Rights of EU citizens.’ She started pulling out other folders. ‘There’s more…’
‘But the rest we can agree on.’
‘’Sure. The regulation of pork sales and tobacco labelling.’ She gave him a hard stare. ‘We’ve agreed the easy stuff. Here we are talking red lines.’
‘Bernard wants to be reasonable.’
‘Reasonable?’ She rolled up the document she held in her hand like a truncheon and pointed it at him. ‘The only reasonable he has in mind is our abject surrender to all his demands.’
Mary got to her feet and stood brandishing the roll as if it were a sword. ‘We will not surrender.’
After a moment she sat down again.
‘I guess your idea is worth a try.’
‘I’ll get on to it right away, PM.’
* * *
Ahmed swung his Prius in a full circle and pulled up beside the curb. A young man, with a bag in hand, stepped over.
Ahmed wound down the window. ‘Mr Evans?’
‘Yeah, that’s me. Waterloo Station, yes?’
‘Yep. That’s it.’
‘How quickly can you get me there?’
‘Usual. Twenty. Twenty-five minutes or so. Depends on traffic.’
‘Well, as quick as you can. The train leaves at 18:36.’
‘Do me best.’
Ahmed signalled and pulled out.
They headed down Shaftesbury Avenue. About half-way down, they got stuck in traffic. He could see the lights turn green, then amber, then red. The traffic didn’t move. The lights went green again. He honked. But the lines were at a standstill.
Ahmed turned to his passenger. ‘Sorry mate, I’ll see if I can go ‘round.’
‘Yes, sure. Time’s running out.’
Ahmed indicated to go right into a side street. But there was a continuous stream of vehicles coming the opposite way. Eventually, he managed to get into the street by edging out and blocking the way to a bus. The irritated driver waved Ahmed through.
But about two hundred metres in, the road was clogged. A delivery van was preventing cars going both ways.
Ahmed honked, wound down and leaned out the window. He gesticulated at the delivery man. ‘Getcha out the way.’
The man waved a hand in the air. ‘Hey, hang on to your cobbles, mate. Won’t be a minute. One more trolley to go.’
Ahmed honked again.
‘We’re not going to make it, are we?’
Ahmed swivelled round to speak to his passenger. ‘If we can just get past this, I should be able to get you there on time.’
‘I should have gone by tube.’
‘It isn’t normally like this.’
‘Except when you’re in a hurry.’
‘You’d think the congestion charge wouldda helped, yeah?’
Ahmed honked again.
The delivery driver waved at him, closed the doors to his truck and went around to the cab. The flashing lights stopped. The truck edged slowly forward. Ahmed followed close behind. Just before a junction, the truck indicated left. Before it could turn and clear the intersection, it stopped.
Ahmed honked furiously.
The truck’s reversing lights came on. It started to edge back.
Ahmed looked in his rear-view mirror. ‘Shit.’ He put his hand on the horn and kept it there.
The truck stopped. The driver came around and surveyed the situation. He came over to Ahmed and shook his head. ‘I ain’t going to be able to go down, mate. I need to back up.’
‘You’re gonna have to get those behind to shift back.’
‘Yeah.’ The driver headed down the street towards the cars that had stopped behind the Prius.
‘This is hopeless.’ His passenger got out of the car.
‘I give up.’ He pulled the bag out and faced Ahmed. ‘That’s it. Ride’s off.’ He reached into his pocket and pulled out his mobile, tapped at it and then switched it off.
There was a ping on Ahmed’s phone. ‘Thanks mate.’ He watched his passenger walk away back the way they had just come. He glanced at his phone. It said 18:29.
Ahmed noticed the car behind him had backed up. He reversed slowly back to give the truck room to move.
A little later, the driver returned and got back in. The reversing lights came on. With the alert pinging, the truck slowly backed into the street. It stopped. With a jolt, it started forward.
With no bids coming through, Ahmed followed the truck seeking a place to stop and wait. There were no spaces available.
The mobile pinged. Ahmed pulled in against the curb on a double yellow line. He quickly glanced at the message. Too far away, so he didn’t put in a bid. He indicated to pull out just as a large SUV thundered down the street, nearly colliding with him. The vehicle passed and headed for the end of the street. Ahmed pulled out to follow.
Instead of stopping at the give way sign, the SUV accelerated and, to Ahmed’s astonishment, seemed to leap into the air and crash down on a car parked opposite.
Ahmed pulled up at the junction. Remembering to put on his hazard lights, he got out and went over to the SUV. He stood on a tire of the crushed car to get high enough to see in. The driver seemed to be sitting there in a daze. Ahmed s slapped loudly on the window. ‘Hey, mate, you OK?’
This seemed to bring the man out of his stupor. He gazed around. His eyes focused on Ahmed. He wound down the window. ‘Yeah. Just a bit shaken. What happened?’
‘You seemed to jump up when you reached the junction.’
‘How’s that possible?’
Ahmed stepped down and stood back.
The man opened the door and unfastened his seat belt. He looked at the fact the car was up in the air. He clambered down over the roof and bonnet of the car beneath.
‘Did you press the accelerator instead of the brake?’
‘If I’d done that, I’d have smashed into the car, not flown up into the air.’
‘Yeah, I guess so.’
Ahmed’s phone pinged. A ride. He quickly tapped in a reply. There was a moment’s pause. His mobile pinged again. He read what had popped up. ‘Gotta go. Business.’
‘Yeah, well, you take care.’
Ahmed got in, started the engine and carefully drove around the crash towards his next hire.