A saga of everyday life in the Big L and a wry look at contemporary culture
By Tony Carden
‘Well, frankly, it could’ve been better.’
‘Now, now, Mary, don’t go getting all emotional.’
‘Des, I’m not emotional. You get emotional, remember? That time your business nearly went bust. I seem to recall you were screaming…’
‘Not screaming. Shouting. I was shouting at the bloody accountant. Besides you weren’t there.’ No, I wasn’t; and who’s fault was that?
‘No, I wasn’t but I heard the whole sorry saga from Susan.’ You know, your secretary at the time. The one who left when she became pregnant. Her.
‘So? She’s not exactly an impartial observer, is she?’ He got up and wandered over to the cabinet, opened it and pulled out a bottle. ‘Drink?’ He reached in and withdrew a glass and waved it in her general direction.
‘I think not.’ After the last week, I daren’t touch the stuff. I don’t think I could restrain myself if I started.
‘Suit yourself.’ He poured out a two-finger measure and returned the bottle to its place. Something seemed to catch his attention as he looked around the room. ‘I’ll miss this place.’ That’s it. You think I’m finished, do you?
‘So, you’ve no confidence in me either.’ I’m not going, and I’ll prove it. Cotton and his crowd didn’t break through in London, did they? We did alright despite what everyone said. Ha! ‘I’m still in charge, you know, and plan to be for some time yet.’ I’ve a long way to go to beat Margaret’s time here. But I can do it. That’ll show them.
‘Of course, I do, dear. It’s just that aren’t things looking a bit desperate? I mean, seriously, everyone’s saying that just because the party didn’t make progress in the local elections…’ It wasn’t bad. Besides, no government does well in midterms. Loosing Trafford is a disappointment but look at all those UKIP voters who came over to us. It’s because I’ll be delivering their Brexit. They know Cotton’s for turning.
‘The ruling party always does poorly in local elections. We did well enough to prevent Cotton from crooning about how we’re finished.’ Indeed, whose appeal to the electorate is now being questioned? Not mine. About time too.
‘It certain excited backbenchers. That and the fight over the Customs Partnership proposal. They seem determined to kill each other.’ He took a sip and gazed intently at her. ‘There’s still talk of a leadership contest. Aren’t you worried?’ Yes, yes. Of course, I am, but I hear it every day. After a bit you begin to ignore the stories, they simply become background noise.
‘It’s simply malicious gossip. How our papers can print such stuff escapes me. Have you noticed, they never give any sources.’ They’d be far less idle speculation in the press if the gossipers were outed. Umm, I wonder whether we could legislate for that. Perhaps we could push it through on public interest grounds like we did for national security with communications. That would shut them up.
Des shifted and reached for some of the crisps on the coffee table. ‘And Brexit? That doesn’t seem to be going too well.’ My Brexit, Des, remember that. I’m doing it my way, as the song puts it.
‘Well, that’s a concern, of course. I made a mistake. I should never have put that wally Christoph in charge of our negotiations with Brussels.’
‘Why not sack him?’
‘This is not the time for a cabinet reshuffle, Des.’ Or is it? Could I be Machiavellian and spring this one on the party? Show them who’s in charge. Des, you’ve given me an idea. What did Voltaire say? Oh, yes, Admiral Byng. “They execute one to encourage the others.” A reshuffle would throw everyone off guard and I could reward some of the faithful and punish a few bastards. And at the same time get rid of Chris. It might work.
Her mobile rang. She picked it up and checked the caller before answering. ‘Hello, James.’
‘PM, sorry to disturb you this late. I hope you hadn’t retired for the night.’ Mary checked the time. 10:37. Retired? Who do you think I am?
‘No, not at all. I’m here talking to Des.’
‘Well, this won’t take long.’ She could hear him clear his throat. Ah! You always do that when you bring me bad news, did you know that? ‘Mary, there’s grumbling in the ranks. On one side, the Brexiters consider you’re backpedaling on leaving and the Remainers consider you’re not doing enough to preserve the status quo.’ So, I’m about right where I should be, then. Unbidden the lyrics of an old Stealers Wheel song came to her.
“Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right,
Here I am, Stuck in the middle with you.”
‘James, you didn’t call me this late just to tell me that, did you? It’s the local elections. It’s got the party all fired up.’
‘Well, a good many MPs have done the numbers and can see that if this was repeated at the General Election, we’d be back without a majority.’ And they think they’d have more chance under a new PM, is that it? O Margaret, they are coming for me! She remembered more of the song.
“…I got the feeling that something ain’t right,
I’m so scared in case I fall off my chair,
And I’m wondering how I’ll get down the stairs…”
‘Who’s that on the phone?’ Des, not now, please.
Mary shushed him with a gesture. ‘I’ll tell you later.’
‘What is it you wanted to tell me?’
‘I was talking to Des. But since you ask, I was thinking that a cabinet reshuffle would help.’
‘PM, do you think that’s wise? You’ve just had to replace your Home Secretary. Jarvis has hardly had time to glance at the briefs.’ Well, if it wasn’t for the incompetence of his predecessor he’d still be looking after communities and collecting the garbage.
‘No, of course not. He wouldn’t move. But others are not pulling their weight.’
‘Mary, if I may be so bold.’ You’ve never minced words with me. Just because I’m a woman you think you can lord it over me, don’t you? If I could, I’d get rid of you, do you know that? ‘The last reshuffle didn’t work out that well. It damaged you without achieving your goals. I would consider it advisable to hold off for a while longer.’ How long? Until you can line up a suitable stalking horse to take me on? Are you planning something underhand then? More of the song’s lyrics rose unbidden into her mind.
“And I’m wondering what it is I should do,
It’s so hard to keep this smile from my face,
Losing control, yeah, I’m all over the place,
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right,
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.”
Her foot tapped in rhythm to the beat. ‘…you need to make some progress on the Brexit negotiations…’ She was now deeply into the song as it flooded back into her mind as she recalled her life when it first came out and became a smash hit.
“Well you started out with nothing,
And you’re proud that you’re a self-made (wo)man,
And your friends, they all come crawlin,
Slap you on the back and say, Please, please.”
She had first heard it the time of her first crush, a boy who lived down the road from her.
“Trying to make some sense of it all,
But I can see that it makes no sense at all,
Is it cool to go to sleep on the floor,
‘Cause I don’t think that I can take anymore
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right,
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.”
‘PM, you’re not thinking of resigning?’ There was an audible gulp. ‘Heaven forbid. Think of the party. They’d have to be an election. You’d only let Cotton and his Momentum crowd loose to bring on their reign of terror.’
‘I’m not for turning…I mean, running away. I intend to fight to the very end.’ Don’t you think I’m going to walk away. I’ll see you dead first.
‘That’s more like it.’ She could hear him scribbling furiously on the other end of the line. Making jottings for your memoir, are you? May 2018, had call with PM, Lady’s a sticker. She will be the last one standing. ‘I’ll put some feelers out, knock a few heads together, that sort of thing, to keep everyone in line. I’ll also put the boot in a bit with the usual suspects.’
‘You do that.’
‘Well goodnight, then.’
Mary put the mobile down and sat staring at the fireplace. They’re circling like vultures. Give them a hint of blood and they’re drawn to the feast. Bastards, the lot of them.
‘What did he want?’
‘Harcourt-Smithers? Oh, just an update on the party’s mood after the elections.’
She laughed. ‘Well, the usual. Dissatisfaction in the ranks, that sort of thing.’
‘If my workers behaved like that, I’d fire them.’ If only. She had a mental picture of JRM being fired from a catapult.
‘It’s not that simple.’ It never is, damn it. Look at our plans to leave the EU. Bloody difficult.
‘I’m just glad I’m a plumber and not a politician.’ Yes, Des, you’d make a wonderful politician. “I’ll just sweat the pipe, honest.”
‘I think it’s time for bed.’ He leered at her. ‘To sleep, Desmond. Sleep.’
* * *
Dancy walked over to the window and looked out. Below him was the City. He could just see a ribbon of grey that marked the Thames in the distance. A splatter of rain on the glass caught his attention and then he heard a distinct whoosh as a gust of wind rocked the tower. When will this horrible weather end so we can get on with spring?
‘Ah! There you are.’ He turned to see Rocco stride towards him. ‘You weren’t at your desk.’
‘Just taking a break.’ What do you want? You’re not here to chat.
Rocco came over to stand beside him. He placed a hand on Dancy’s shoulder, then turned to gaze out at the cityscape. ‘Great place. But it’s not New York.’ Yeah, it’s great indeed and with a bit of history. It’s because we don’t tear it down and rebuild it every twenty years. He surveyed the scene taking in the various landmarks. There’s a bit of everything out there from the medieval…now where’s the Tower…to the ultra-new. Yes, that tower over there. You just don’t understand London, do you? You jet in from Zug, do a bit of business and then you’re off… ‘I was going over your analysis.’
‘We’re in the danger zone, Rocco. I’ve never seen anything like it in the backtesting.’ Well, once in 2007, but it’s 2018 now, not the Credit Crunch. ‘The indicators are flashing red; our models tell us we should reduce our exposure.’
‘Sure, sure, I saw the output and your recommendation. But it’s like this, see, we’ve just gotten that Arab money and we need to put it to work. It’s crucial that the first quarter’s report they get looks good. They’ve got to see we’re delivering.’
‘But the markets are looking bad, Rocco. Fed’s tightening, Treasury yields are up, the EZ is stuttering. It all points to a major correction.’
‘Yeah, yeah. Now listen Dancy, trust me, it’s going to be alright. How long have I been in this business? I’ll tell yah. Twenty-two years. Twenty-two f—king years, that’s what. And I’ve never lost a dime. I can smell the market, Dancy, and it smells real sweet. Don’t yah worry. We’ll keep an eye on the markets and get out if things turn sour.’ Yeah, yeah, it’s trust me Rocco. You know what? Since our trip together I now see you in a different light. Quinn was right; she called you a used car salesman and that’s the polite description. You’re nothing but a hustler, a wheeler-dealer. You just needed my models to sell your bulls**t. You never intended to do what you promised, just take the money and get the fees. Give the punters a bit upfront before fleecing them.
‘But what about our models? They’re screaming about rising correlation, falling liquidity and overpriced assets. What about that volatility spike earlier this year? Our models say “sell”.’
‘You know what? You worry too much.’ Rocco turned away and headed for the door.
‘But can we just leave it? Once the market turns everyone will want to get out. It’ll be a stampede.’
Rocco stopped and turned. ‘Don’t worry, we’ll do a Jersey slide and we’ll be alright. I’ve done it before.’ He knocked his fist into the palm of his hand. ‘Listen, are you and your girlfriend free tomorrow night?’ What Friday? I’ve no idea what Quinn might have set up.
‘Quinn might be working.’
‘Well, you contact her and ask her. Dorchester at seven o clock. It’s a new prospect.’ He grinned. ‘And make sure she dresses to impress.’ Hey! Keep Quinn out of this. We’re supposed to be selling the fund on its merits. The lyrics of his father’s song sprang into his mind.
“When you’re in love with a beautiful woman…you go it alone.”
‘I’ll let you know what she says.’
‘Seven, OK. The two of you.’ He strutted out of the office. Is that a swagger?
“Everybody wants her, everybody loves her
Everybody wants to take your baby home…”
‘I’ll call her now.’ She’ll be at work. Hopefully she will pick up and I can get this sorted. Tell me you can’t do this. He pulled out his iPhone and called her.
‘Hi, Dancy.’ She sounds happy. ‘You calling to tell me you’re heading home?’
‘Nuh. I’ve to a bit more work to do here before I leave. I’ve just had a chat with Rocco. There’s a big client in town and he’d like you to join the dinner.’
‘When?’ It’s tomorrow night.
‘Tomorrow. It’s at the Dorchester. You’ll need to dress up.’
There was a pause. ‘Can I call you back?’
‘You got something on?’
‘I said I’d have a drink with someone after work tomorrow. To celebrate. I’ll need to cancel. I’ll be right back.’ She ended the call. She hadn’t mentioned anything about a drink.
“When you’re in love with a beautiful woman, it never ends
You know that it’s crazy, you wanna trust her
Then somebody hangs up when you answer the phone.
When you’re in love with a beautiful woman, you go it alone…”
Dancy slowly made his way back to his desk. The screensaver on his computer had kicked in. It was a picture of Quinn he had taken just after she had moved in with him. How long ago was it? Four months. Is that all? He touched the space bar and his work sprung back to fill the screen. He gazed at his analysis. Eight of the twelve indicators were in the red zone, the rest were amber. Not a green or yellow one among them. It’s telling us to get out, Rocco. How can you be so stupid?
‘Wow. Is that a simulation?’ Startled by the voice, Dancy turned to see Françoise staring at the screen.
‘If only. That’s real.’
‘Looks bad.’ She flashed him a smile.
He had an idea. ‘Listen, you doing anything tomorrow night? Rocco has a client and he wants me to bring Quinn. She’s not available, would you come?’
‘Won’t she mind?’
‘She doesn’t have to know. It’s a work event. It’s at the Dorchester. You’ll like it, it’s very up-market. You’ll need to dress up.’
‘Yeah, yeah. You’ll just need to talk the guy’s wife.’ I think.
‘Well, of course.’ One problem solved.
‘Meet me there then tomorrow evening at 6:45.’ She giggled. His mobile rang. Seeing this she waved at him provocatively and headed off. He looked at the screen. Quinn. He tapped to accept. ‘Hi, Darling.’
‘I’ve managed to put off the celebration so can go tomorrow night.’ No! I thought you’d not be able to make it. I’ve now asked Françoise. What a mess! What should I do?
‘Rocco’s changed the arrangements. It’s going to be just me now.’
‘Oh.’ She sounded disappointed.
‘Perhaps you can still go out tomorrow to celebrate as you’d planned.’
‘Yeah. I’d better go and tell Aiden it’s back on.’ A pause. ‘See you later. What time do you expect to be home?’ Who’s Aiden?
‘Um. About eight, I think.’
‘OK, I’ll try to be back about then. Chinese?’
‘Sure. I’ll get it. See you then, Darling.’
‘Hugs and kisses.’ She hung up. What have I done?
“When you’re in love with a beautiful woman, you watch her eyes.
When you’re in love with a beautiful woman, you look for lies.
Everybody tempts her, everybody tells her
She’s the most beautiful woman they know…”
He couldn’t get the song out of his head.
To be continued…
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.
Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.