Another dawn saw the end of another night of chaos for Alex. He and Eve had returned to the Company apartment in the early hours of the morning, after spending the night as Mr Mitall-Patterson's guests of honour. William had been loath to waste the banquet he'd organised and had invited Alex and everyone to his townhouse. It also helped to repair his damaged reputation, of course.
and Diaz had spent the night making sure that the Palace was ready for Alex to
move into in the morning. Cyril had been a little put out that Diaz had
turned to Sid and not to him, but it had allowed him to enjoy an excellent
dinner, so he soon forgave them.
The press had been in an uproar since the announcement, wishing that they could have at least two top stories after Ted's arrest. The reporters remained camped in the ballroom waiting for more news as to when Alex would be inaugurated. Sarah Lovely had put together a press statement.
Diaz now faced the reporters, wanting to get the statement over with as soon as he could. "What an amazing day for Londinium! The Smudge lineage has been saved from extinction. Alex Winthrop, or Smudge as he will now be known, has saved us all. I know you are all anxious to know when he will be officially sworn in to office and I can tell you that in nine days time we will hold the ceremony in this very room." A cheer went up and reporters started shouting questions at Diaz.
"Why did you not know about Alex from the beginning?"
Diaz had been bracing for such a question. "Due to the circumstances surrounding Alex's conception ..."
"You mean that Dirk had an affair?" the reporter pushed.
"Due to the circumstances surrounding Alex's conception," Diaz repeated pointedly, "it was considered prudent that Alex's birth records showed no Palace connection, and as such Alex's mother was relocated outside the city before he was born."
"But..." a reporter started to ask.
Diaz spoke over the reporter, anxious avoid further questions that implied he was incompetent. "An official biographer will be conducting interviews with Alex and his family, with a view to publishing his story in the New Year. No more questions, thank you." Diaz rushed through the backstage area and out into the formal dining room, where his ministers were waiting for him. Sarah Lovely approached Diaz with a smile.
Diaz however grimaced, “I will be glad when you can start giving the press statements again Sarah. I hate it.”
“You do a brilliant job,” Sarah replied loyally. Diaz had done the impossible and saved their jobs like he’d promised.
“I always feel like a complete tit,” he moaned.
Cyril laughed and showed him a headline from that day’s Londinium Dispatch. ‘PA Diaz voted ‘Most trustworthy’ by our readers.’ Diaz snatched the paper from Cyril and glanced over the story.
“It’s safe to say,” Cyril began, “that nobody else thinks that.”
Diaz shook his head and sat down wearily. “I think the whole world has gone mad.”
When Sid had announced that the Palace apartment was ready for Alex to move into, Eve had insisted on going with him. She had said to Sid that she wanted to provide moral support for Alex. Whilst this was true to a point, her curiosity was intense. Everyone in the city wondered how the President lived. No photos of the apartment had ever been published and Eve was dying to see what it was like. For Alex nothing could have been nicer than the Company apartment, with its clean modern lines and large windows.
“I hope I haven’t put you to any trouble.” Alex told Sid when he arrived that morning.
“Nonsense, it was our pleasure, Mr President.”
“Oh no, don’t you start. I’ve had it up to here with being called that.”
Sid laughed. “Let’s get to the Palace. Your Guard is waiting in the lobby.”
“My Guard?” Alex asked as Sid led them downstairs.
“We can’t have the President just wandering around the streets alone.”
Alex sighed. “I suppose not.”
Eve squeaked with delight when she saw the twenty strong Guard all smartly turned out. “They are so handsome.”
“Not you too, Eve. I need someone on my side,” Alex moaned.
“You don’t understand, Alex, they are the most sought after men in the City. Every year I buy their topless calendar.”
Alex stared at the men and then back at Eve. “If you say so.”
“I never thought I’d get to see them up close,” she said, moving towards them.
Sid rushed forward and stopped Eve. He then addressed the Guard. “I would like to introduce you to your new charge, Alex Smudge.” The Guard turned to face Alex and snapped a sharp salute.
Alex, however, had been distracted. “Sid, my name is not Smudge.”
“Ah. I forgot I hadn’t told you. Every President is given the name in honour of your great ancestor Aloysius Smudge, the first President.”
“Oh. OK,” Alex’s world was becoming stranger by the minute. “Can we just get going now?”
Sid nodded. “Captain Kennedy, over to you.”
A slightly older and more distinguished guard stepped forward; gleaming medals covered his chest. “Guard assume position Clock Face.”
Alex nearly laughed at the absurdity of it all. He would have been at the Palace by now if he could have gone on his own. The guards positioned themselves in a tight circle around Alex, Eve and Sid. Slowly they set off.
Mrs Rose was in an exceptionally good mood and her lodgers had been given an extra helping of bacon for breakfast. Clive and Mr Finkle had taken pity on her and done the washing up whilst she had retired to the parlour in a daze. “Well I never,” she muttered to the large ginger cat that lay beside her. “The President in my house.” In her mind she was practically an aristocrat by association. Once they had finished Clive and Mr Finkle joined her, no one quite knowing what to do with the day. Clive’s association with the rebellion had increased his standing in Mrs Rose’s eyes. As such he was actually allowed to move one of her beloved cats and sit on a chair.
“Now, I have booked a shampoo and set for this morning, must look my best for our President later,” Mrs Rose said, eyes aglow.
“You’re seeing Alex?” Clive asked, wondering how Mrs Rose had been able to get an invite.
“I will be going with you, of course.”
“Well, you were telling us last night how close you and Alex are.”
“We are,” Clive began, whilst Mr Finkle chuckled. “But I wouldn’t want to take liberties.”
“Nonsense, I’ve got my best dress out and everything. I am sure Alex will be pleased to see us.” There was no doubt in her tone. Clive had the impression that his sudden rise in her opinion could be very short lived indeed.
“OK, I’ll talk to Rodney,” he said, defeated, whilst Mrs Rose smiled triumphantly.
Rodney had spent the night celebrating with his fellow protestors. Once the excitement in the ballroom had subsided they had retreated to the Lower City and to Rodney’s local pub the Hanging Nail. Rodney was hailed as the hero of the hour, and even as a new day got underway the drink was still flowing.
“Somebody pinch me,” he slurred. "My mate Alex, the President."
“You will be given a title for sure,” Thomas pronounced. “They’ll call you Sir Crumple.” He giggled at the look of horror that crossed Rodney's face.
“I don't want to be elevated. I haven't got the money to be a knight.”
Thomas warmed to his theme. “You'll have to throw fancy parties and give away your old clothes to your gardener.”
“But I don't have a garden.”
“Then there will be all them eligible ladies inviting you round for,” here Thomas put on a funny voice, “h'afternoon tea.”
Rodney groaned. “My boss won't like it. I'm in trouble for taking time off as it is.”
“Well, you won't be able to work when you’re a Sir, will you?”
“It's not right you mixing with us common folk.”
“But I am common, common as muck I am,” he declared proudly. “That was partly what we were rebelling against, people being treated differently cause of where they come from.”
“Right you are, Sir Crumple.” Thomas sniggered into his pint.
A knocking on the door distracted Rodney from making any further protests. “Private party,” the bartender shouted through the door.
A voice could be heard shouting from the other side. “It's me, Clive.”
The bartender turned to Rodney. “You know a Clive?” he asked.
“Clive ... Clive?” Faces swam through his alcohol muddled mind. “Oh yeah. Let him in.”
Clive stumbled in, the dark smoky atmosphere blinding him momentarily. “I know you said you’d be drinking all night, Rodney, but I didn’t expect to find you here this morning.” Clive sat at Rodney’s table.
“It’s morning?” Rodney asked with a slur.
“It’s nearly ten o clock.”
“Oh boy,” Thomas groaned. “Tiffy is going to shout at me when I get back.”
Rodney laughed. “Serves you right.” He turned to Clive. “Have you come to start drinking again?”
“No, and I don’t think you should have anymore either.” Clive surreptitiously moved Rodney’s beer mug away from him. Rodney would never get into the Palace if he was drunk.
“Yes I ca...” Rodney was interrupted by a huge belch. The look of horror that crossed his face made it clear that he had almost thrown up. “Maybe I should lie down?” he asked, before promptly folding at the middle and slumping forward, his head hitting the table with a loud thud.
“Oh no. Rodney!” Clive shook him. “Rodney, can you hear me?” He turned to Thomas. “Help.” But Thomas had also passed out and gracefully slid onto the floor. He put his head in his hands. Mrs Rose would probably chuck him out if she didn’t get her way.
Alex had been greeted by Diaz and the ministerial team when he had finally arrived at the Palace. The press had been kicked out of the ballroom and the chairs had been hastily pushed aside as Ministers lined up along side key members of the Palace staff.
“Welcome back, Mr President, I trust you had a good night?” Diaz asked, but swept on before Alex had a chance to answer. “Allow me to introduce you to your Ministerial team.” The first person in the line was Cyril, chest ballooning with pride. “This is Cyril Hedge, Minister for Technology Control.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Alex said, shaking Cyril’s hand.
“Next is Sarah Lovely, Minister for Public Relations.”
“I remember you from last night, thank you.” Alex shook her hand warmly and Sarah blushed.
“This is Minister of Justice Edward Granger.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Alex said. There were at least twenty more people waiting to meet him. Alex didn’t know how Diaz thought he’d ever remember everyone’s name. Ministers for transport, defence, education, healthcare and many others were introduced, their faces blurring into an indistinguishable mass. Eventually he was alone with Eve and Diaz. Sid had been taken away by Cyril for a meeting.
“Can we see the apartment now the boring bit is over?” Eve asked the question which Alex was dying to.
“Mr President?” Diaz asked for Alex’s permission.
Eve squealed. “I have been dying of curiosity.” Alex laughed; he was so pleased that Eve had come with him. At least someone was acting normally.
“We can begin the tour in here. As you probably know, this is the ballroom, where all official state ceremonies are held.” Diaz led them out into the entrance hall, he pointed to various doors which led away from them. “Through here is the Formal Dining room, where visiting dignitaries are entertained. Through here are more formal rooms for public addresses and staff meetings. There are a whole maze of passageways behind the formal rooms which lead to offices and such.” He looked at Eve. “I won’t bore you with that now.” He led them across the hall and to a large pair of double doors. Diaz rattled the door handle. “As you can see, these doors are locked. Normally there would be a pair of guards on this side of the doors as well as on the other side.”
Diaz tapped out a complicated sounding pattern of knocks. The doors opened an inch until the guard recognised Diaz and swung the doors open wide. Two guards stood proudly to attention. “At ease.” Diaz told them before turning to Alex. “These are Donovan and Rogers, one of the three pairs of guards who will stop anyone getting to you.”
Alex smiled and nodded to the men. Alex was impressed with them. The guards were large and had so much muscle they were almost as wide as they were tall. Alex would feel safe with Doris here, knowing that Rogers and Donovan weren’t too far away. Beside him he could practically feel Eve’s excitement.
“Hi, I’m Eve,” she said, fluttering her eyelashes at them.
Diaz shook his head with a smile and led them fully into the room. The President’s guards tended to have that effect on women, although Diaz couldn’t understand why.
Beyond the guards a wrought iron staircase spiralled gracefully upwards to the apartment above. Diaz went up first followed by Alex and then slowly by Eve who was still looking longingly at the guards.
The first thing that hit Alex as he saw his new home for the first time was the light. Downstairs the light had been muted and largely artificial but here bright sunlight flooded in. Standing at the top of the stairs a large L shaped room was laid out in front of him. On the far wall huge cathedral style windows looked out over the Palace gardens. Sunlight beamed in from more large windows behind him which offered views out over the Plaza.
Eve gasped as she came to stand beside Alex. The modern lines of the Company apartment had been blended here with exposed brickwork and traditional features. “It’s beautiful.” She moved off to her left where a huge long fish tank separated the stairway from a lounge area.
“Ah yes.” Diaz took Alex to the fish tank. “Your father loved his exotic fish. Many of these are gifts from heads of state.”
Alex tried not to dwell on the ‘your father’ comment as he looked in wonder at the fish. He’d never seen such colours on a living creature before. Diaz smiled and pulled him gently away, towards the windows at the long end of the L. Hanging on the exposed bricks were three large flat screen T.Vs, each showing a different image.
“This first one is a normal T.V.; you can receive any broadcast channel. The middle one shows the views from all of the CCTV cameras, particularly useful if you have children.”
“Wait, what’s CCTV?”
“Sorry, I’ll try to slow down a bit.” There was a large sofa opposite the screens. Diaz sat and Alex followed him. “It stands for Closed Circuit Tele Vision. You may have noticed all these little white boxes on the walls, in the corners and by doors. These boxes are cameras which constantly record what’s going on. The video is sent to the Security room in the basement and up here so you can always see what’s going on.”
Alex nodded. “Okay, what about the third screen.”
“That one’s a bit more complicated. Basically all the information ever gathered by the Palace and by the Ministers is stored on what we call the intra-net.”
“With you so far.”
“From this screen here you can search for anyone or anything, and you’ll be able to see all the information we have in seconds.”
“Wow, all on that screen?”
“Yeah, let me show you.” Diaz picked up a small wireless keyboard which was lying on the coffee table in front of them. “You use this to type in what you want to search for.”
“I’m never going to get the hang of this.” Alex sighed; how did the box of letters connect to the screen?
“We’ll take it slowly and you’ll get it.” Diaz sounded optimistic. “How about we search for someone you know.” He thought about it for a moment, “I know. Let’s search for the Painted Ladies.”
“That’s a good idea.” Alex perked up.
Diaz typed into the keyboard and on the screen numerous windows popped up showing pictures of Luke and the others. “That’s amazing,” Alex said, getting up to look more closely at the screen. “Could we search for my sister?”
“Yeah, just give me a second.” Diaz entered Bridgee’s name and her photo, ID card and work record popped up on the screen.
“Can you make this bigger?” Alex said, pointing to a window.
“Sure.” Bridgee’s work record at the Scarlet Siren was displayed. “We looked into her when you were arrested. I think the most likely thing is she went home.”
“I hope so.”
“Well, we are going to send riders to your village so your family can attend the inauguration. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.”
“We need to make sure Doris comes too.”
“My girlfriend,” Alex explained.
“Of course, Sir.” Diaz wasn’t sure he liked the idea of Alex having a country girlfriend, but there was nothing he could do about it yet.
“Alex, you have to see this.” Eve had been exploring the rest of the apartment whilst Alex had been having his technology lesson. Her voice came from the room behind them that made what was a square space into an L.
Alex found Eve in the bedroom. “Isn’t this the biggest bed you’ve ever seen?” Eve was right; the huge four poster bed was almost the size of two double beds put together. Lush velvet curtains hung in a canopy and wrapped round the posts. Another huge window looked out over the Palace gardens.
“I love this view,” Alex said, walking to the window. “The gardens are beautiful.”
Diaz opened one of two doors opposite the window. “In here is your dressing room.”
“What?” Alex peered in. The walls were lined with drawers and hanging rails. There were already suits and shoes waiting for him. “A whole room for dressing in?”
“You lucky thing!” Eve pouted.
“This is your personal bathroom,” Diaz said, opening the other door and switching on a light.
“Wow.” The bath tub was huge and gleamed in the light. There was also a huge shower cubicle. “Your father always loved that shower, it has multiple jets that massage you from all angles.”
“Sounds amazing,” Eve sighed. “You are very lucky.”
“It’s a lot to take in,” Alex mumbled, overwhelmed.
Diaz nodded. “I’m sure it is. I will leave you to settle in.”
Once Diaz had left Eve shouted “Wow,” and jumped on the bed.
Alex laughed and joined her. “This is insane.”
For Julie, Alex’s appointment was a bittersweet moment. She had succeeded in protecting Alex and helping him become President. On the other hand her last assignment for the Company was over, now she was directionless. Her future, which had seemed so secure a week ago, was now up in the air. Being a Company employee was all she’d ever known or wanted.
After the party last night Julie had checked into an Upper Town hotel; the owner was a former client. She was currently homeless after losing her Company rooms. The hotel was decorated in an exotic oriental style. She had spent the party getting to know Johnstone. He knew that his job with the Company was over after his announcement. Julie had been very impressed with Johnstone. She didn’t know if she would have had the courage to do what he did.
Annie was helping Julie finish dressing when the phone in her room started to ring. Straightening her skirt, Julie picked up the receiver. “Hello?”
“There is a man at the front desk for you.”
“What’s his name?”
A thrill ran through Julie at the mention of his name. “Send him up.” She put the receiver down and checked the room. “Annie, this room is a mess, clean it up.”
Annie looked around with a smile. The room was spotless. She made a show of plumping up some cushions on the sofa before disappearing into the bedroom.
A knock at the door sent Julie’s heart into overdrive; she was sure Johnstone would hear it. “Coming,” she shouted, checking that the room wasn’t going to spring an embarrassing surprise as soon as her back was turned. “Hey,” she said as she opened the door.
“Hi,” Johnstone said, coming into the room.
“You look stressed,” Julie said, closing the door and sitting on the couch. “How did it go?” She patted the cushion beside her.
“As well as I expected I suppose.” Johnstone sat and sighed. “It looks like we are both out of work.”
Julie rubbed his shoulder. “We can be homeless together.” She laughed, but Johnstone slumped against the cushions. “It is going to be okay.”
“Thanks Julie,” he smiled.
“Well, we have each other.”
Johnstone put his arm around her and pulled her close. “Just me and you against the world.”
She looked up at him. “I like the sound of that.”
Clive had brought Rodney back to semi conciseness by throwing a bucket of cold water over him. He had then led Rodney, who was feebly protesting, to the nearest @Greene’s’ coffee shop. Rodney had collapsed gratefully on to a lurid green sofa whilst Clive had brought a tray full of double espressos.
Clive deposited the tray in front of Rodney and handed him a cup. “Here, drink this.”
Rodney drank the espresso down in one gulp. “Yuck,” he shuddered.
“Can you face something to eat?”
“Not just yet.” Rodney held his head. “Thanks for helping me out.”
“It’s OK. I might need your help.”
“How so?” Rodney asked, picking up another cup of espresso.
“Well, you will be seeing Alex later?”
“Yes, I suppose.”
“Can me and my landlady come?”
“Your landlady?” Rodney asked, wondering if maybe he had misheard.
“Alex rented a room in the house where I live, and now because I know you she thinks I can get her into the Palace to see him. She’s going to kick me out if I can’t.”
Rodney laughed, and then clutched his head until the throbbing died away. Gingerly he reached out and picked up another cup of coffee. “One good turn deserves another, right?”
“Thank you. Now drink up and you’ll be sober in no time.”
“Hello?” Sid called as he came up the spiral staircase, his arms full of papers. He placed the papers on the long dining room table which sat near the wall in the short arm of the L opposite the sofas. “Mr President?” Sid called again, slightly worried this time.
“In here.” A shout sounded from the bedroom. It took Sid a moment to spot Alex where he was sat on the floor, leaning against the footboard of the bed and gazing out of the window. “And I thought I told you not to call me that.” Alex sighed as Sid came and sat next to him.
“Are you OK?” Sid asked after a few moments of silent contemplation of the view.
“It’s still just sinking in.”
“Of course. Where’s Eve?”
“She went home.”
“Oh.” Words dried up on Sid’s tongue in the face of Alex’s silence. Petty pleasantries wouldn’t be right.
They sat like that for another ten minutes before Alex roused himself. “Did you need something?” he asked getting up.
“Yeah.” Sid got up as well and led Alex back out to the table where the papers were waiting. “I’m afraid you will find that nothing can be done without your signature. So you will spend most of your life dodging people with bits of paper in their hands,” Sid joked.
Alex smiled. “I am going to have to find some hidey holes, I can tell.”
“That’s the spirit.” He handed Alex a pen. “And whilst you are working on that, you can sign these in the meantime.”
“What are they?”
“Well, these pink ones are inter-departmental stuff, which is as boring as it sounds. The yellow ones relate to policy and the blue ones to expenditure. For example, this blue one is to free up some funds to start rebuilding the LCDD.”
“Well, that needs to be done,” Alex said, signing the blue paper. “Pass me the others.” Alex signed each sheet as Sid presented it. “I feel like I’m signing my life away,” he said with a chuckle.
“Please, you are the President. You are signing other people’s lives away.”
“Can you do me a favour, Sid?” Alex asked, once the paperwork was finished.
“I want you to go to the village and get Doris and my family.”
“I need to be able to send someone I can trust.”
Sid felt his cheeks burning at the compliment. “Of course.” He checked his watch. “I will have to hurry. The riders and the coach are due to depart soon.”
“Thank you. Keep them safe for me, OK?”
“With my life if necessary,” Sid said, gathering up the papers and rushing down the stairs. Alex watched him leave before crossing to the other end of the room and looking out over the garden again.
Clive had finally deemed Rodney presentable enough after his fourth espresso, and took him back to his lodgings to clean up before heading to pick up Mrs Rose.
When they got back Mrs Rose was a sight to behold. Clive barely recognised her as she descended the stairs. The hairdresser had primped and teased and coloured her hair into an extravagant bob which stood out like a chestnut halo round her face. As she approached, the smell of hairspray stung Clive’s eyes. True to her word she had worn her best dress; unfortunately it was twenty years out of date and at least two sizes too small. Rolls of fat bulged under her armpits and round her neck, making a break for freedom. Her arthritic feet were squashed into a pair of shoes which dated from the same period as the dress and promised to become uncomfortable immediately Clive had a vision of trying to carry her home later.
To Mrs Rose, however, the fondness of memory had blinded her to the reflection in the mirror. “I haven’t felt like this since Mr Rose was alive,” she twittered, twirling for Clive and Rodney.
“Magnificent,” they mumbled, not looking at each other.
“Now, Clive, be a love and pick up the box in the parlour, whilst I congratulate Rodney,” Mrs Rose said, taking Rodney’s arm and leading him back towards the front door. Clive peered into the parlour, wondering what on earth Mrs Rose could mean. Sure enough, on a doily-covered side table sat a large box tied tightly with string. As he struggled to pick it up the contents of the box moved alarmingly, and Clive noticed the air holes. “Mrs Rose,” he called, panicked, as a low growl emanated from inside. “Mrs Rose!” He rushed out into the hallway. “What is in this box?”
“A present for the President. A home is not a home without a cat in it, isn’t that right, Rodney?”
“Absolutely,” Rodney replied with a smile, as the box rocked in Clive’s arms.
“Hush, hush little darling,” Mrs Rose cooed into the box, “we don’t want any accidents, do we?”
Clive went rigid. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”
“Of course it is,” Mrs Rose said, with the assurance of being a complete cat lover. The idea of Alex not liking her gift was ridiculous. “Come along now.” She opened the door and ushered them out into the street.
The journey to the Palace seemed to take a torturously long time. Clive wasn’t sure who was attracting more attention, Mrs Rose in her ‘best dress’ or himself carrying a spitting, yowling box which was rapidly becoming damp and smelling foul.
Mrs Rose, however, appeared to be floating on air. No double takes or muttered comments could penetrate her good mood. Upon reaching the Palace gates she announced herself to the guard on duty before marching past and into the entrance hall. The guard trailed behind her like an ineffective anchor.
“Will you please wait, Madame?” he shouted, almost bumping into them as they stopped and admired the hall. “The President is very busy and isn’t seeing anyone today.” Trying to usher them out proved useless, as Mrs Rose refused to listen.
“I am his former landlady, and this here is his very good friend Clive.” The guard looked Clive over. He saw a cowardly little man trying to hide behind the box in his arms.
“That may be, but...”
“You do recognise Rodney Crumple, of course,” Mrs Rose blustered on, “a very important man in the rebellion.” Rodney puffed out his chest. Mrs Rose might not be able to get in to see Alex, but Rodney thought he damn well should. The guard faltered and glanced at the guarded double doors which led to Alex’s apartment. Seizing on his indecision, Rodney led Mrs Rose towards the doors. “Let me in,” he demanded. “I am a founding member of the rebellion. Which we won last night, in case you missed it. I am now going to congratulate my dear friend Alex.” He looked at the two guards standing either side of the doors. “Isn’t there some sort of fanfare you should be doing?”
Clive approached the guards himself. “Have you got a table I can put this on, at least?” he asked, as the sound of a cat being sick came from the box. In the face of the unorthodox onslaught the guard opened the door and ushered them inside, handing them over for Rogers and Donovan to deal with. Clive gratefully put the box on a nearby table and rubbed some feeling back into his hands.
“What is the meaning of this? I am going to have to arrest you all,” Rogers said, brandishing a weapon. “All of you sit down over there with your backs to the wall.” He marched them into place whilst Donovan went to check the box.
Schrödinger’s cat is a paradox that basically states that a cat in a lead lined box with radioactive material cannot be proven to be dead or alive without opening the box. Had Schrödinger had to deal with this cat in this box the paradox may well have read something more like this: Whether or not the cat is alive or dead may not be known without looking, but one thing is certain: the cat is furious either way.
Once Donovan had cut the string and opened the box the cat leapt, taking a large chunk of his hand with it. Half blinded by the sudden light and propelled by rage the cat tore up the spiral staircase and vanished into the apartment. A few seconds later a surprised shout was heard and Alex came running downstairs.
“What the hell was that?”
“Alex!” Mrs Rose cried happily.
“Mrs Rose, Rodney, Clive?” Alex got a grip of the situation and smiled. “What are you doing here?”
“We had to come and congratulate you,” Rodney said. He turned to Rogers. “Can we go up now?”
Rogers looked to Alex, who was already helping Mrs Rose to her feet and shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve got my eye on you,” he mumbled as Alex led them upstairs.
“It is really good to see you,” Alex beamed and settled them on the sofas. Behind them the large widows looked out towards the Plaza and the bustling Upper Town.
“What a beautiful apartment you have, Mr President.” Mrs Rose was breathless with admiration.
“It is lovely, isn’t it, and please call me Alex. I shall never get used to being called anything else.”
“Have you seen Sid?” Rodney asked. Sid’s absence from the celebrations had been bothering Rodney since he sobered up. If ever there was a man who deserved a pint it was Sid.
“Yes, he works here actually.”
“No!” Rodney couldn’t believe it. “But he was so against the establishment.”
“I know, but he’s my right hand man now. I have sent him to the Village to collect my family.”
“Won’t that be nice to have them here?” Mrs Rose nodded. “You must be lonely.”
“It’s not so bad, there is plenty to do.” Alex said bravely.
“I’m sure you have lots of important decisions to make.”
“Mostly it’s signing bits of paper, although I have started the reconstruction of the LCDD,” Alex said proudly. He made a mental note to talk to Eve about it later.
Clive had been sitting awestruck, unable to speak. “W ... well done with last night,” he finally he managed to stutter.
“Thanks. I wish you had come to the dinner afterwards. There were all these rich aristocrats and I didn’t have a clue what to say to them.”
“I am sure you behaved perfectly,” Mrs Rose simpered. “You...” She was interrupted by a series of thuds coming from Alex’s bedroom.
“What was that?” Alex jumped up and went to investigate, with the others close behind him. The bedroom was suspiciously quiet. Alex walked round the bed but saw no sign of what could have made the noise. The bathroom was also empty, leaving Alex to check the dressing room. Flicking on the lights, he saw at once what had happened. A pair of shoes were lying on the floor at the bottom of a shelving unit which held more shoes that Alex had ever seen before. There was an empty shelf at head height. Alex peered in. In the gloom he could make out a pair of eyes staring back at him. As he moved closer there was a loud hissing noise, and he stepped back hurriedly.
“Ahh, so that’s where she got to,” Mrs Rose said. “I brought you a present, Alex. Her name is Poppy and she’s a little angel.”
“Mrs Rose is giving you one of her cats,” Clive translated.
Understanding dawned on Alex. “Mrs Rose, I don’t know what to say. I can’t possibly accept one of your beloved cats.”
“How gracious you are,” Mrs Rose muttered, fanning herself with her hand. “but I really have to insist.” Lowering her voice slightly, so as not to offend Popp, she continued, “You see, little Poppy darling doesn’t like my other cats. It really would be a blessing to see her settled on her own. I know you will take great care of her.”
Alex’s resolve melted in the heat of her earnest gaze. “Well, if you are sure you can spare her?”
“She will be missed, of course. Such a friendly little Poppet. I wouldn’t part with her under normal circumstances.”
“But things are far from normal these days,” Alex agreed whole-heartedly. “In that case, it would be an honour.”
Mrs Rose fanned herself again whilst Alex went to look at his new companion. As soon as he was within striking distance a white paw shot out and scratched wildly. “I’d leave her to come out on her own,” Mrs Rose advised, patting Alex gently on the arm.
Bob Presley looked around himself for the umpteenth time. The same scene of country idyll, complete with bored looking sheep stared back. Bob had left the comfort of the city for a trial run. He had made a complete mock up of the Seat of Office, which the heir would sit on during the inauguration. Nestling beneath the padded seat was the bomb, the charge designed to detonate when weight was applied to the seat. Or at least that was the plan. Now, with the inauguration in five days, Bob rushed to test the device. Once the bomb was armed Bob retired to a safe distance behind some boulders; by his feet a pile of rocks were waiting. Whilst he would have liked to throw a sheep on to the chair - their continual staring was unnerving him - Bob had to make sure he would be safely out of range of the explosion. He picked up a rock and threw it at the chair. It bounced on to the seat and rolled off, as did the next three. Huffing in frustration Bob changed from an over arm to an under arm throw. This time the rock hit the back of the chair before coming to rest on the seat. Bob ducked behind the boulder, his fingers in his ears, but nothing happened. Clearly one rock alone was not going to set off the bomb. Bob threw several more rocks until, BOOM. The sound echoed across the fields and the sheep took off running in the other direction, apart from one, which fell over. Bob peered out from behind his cover. His hair was singed and he was covered in mud but he was smiling manically. The chair lay in ruins, tattered fabric on fire in the grass. No one could survive that. Once the heir was dead, Bob would hold the city to ransom with the threat of more bombs. He chuckled to himself. The Presidency was as good as his.
Julie and Johnstone were bored. To begin with they had found the boredom luxurious it felt, extravagant to while away the day in coffee shops watching as the working masses rushed around them. They would catch each other’s eye and laugh as they snuggled deeper into the lurid sofas. It had only taken a week for boredom to lose its allure, boredom they decided was depressing and if they didn’t do something soon a sleepy stupor was all that awaited them.
Sitting on a corner sofa, whiling away another long afternoon, they re-hashed the week long argument they’d been having about their future. “Nevertheless, we’re trained assassins, it’s what we do.” Johnstone was saying.
“But didn’t it feel great to save Alex? To do something good for a change.”
“It was just a one off, I’m no bodyguard.”
“Well what then?” Julie asked exasperated. “We’ve been fired, the Company won’t take us back.”
“I don’t want to go back,” Johnstone soothed.
“And we both know what will happen if we try to set up a rival business,” Julie carried on without appearing to hear him.
“I know,” he had to agree with Julie there; if they tried to compete with the Company they wouldn’t live long enough to complete one contract.
“So why not try to save other people. Nobody knows how the Company works like we do.”
“Surely they are even more likely to kill us if we do that.”
“As I keep saying, we’d be protected from being the subject of a contract by the Company charter. We wouldn’t be classed as direct competition as we wouldn’t tae lives.”
“I don’t think they’ll see it like that.” Johnstone sighed.
“Well then what are we going to do?” Julie asked, bringing the conversation full circle once more. “I’m going mad just sitting in coffee shops.”
Johnstone looked at the woman in his arms; surely her happiness was worth the risk. “You really want to do this don’t you?”
“I do, it’s something I feel I need to do. But I don’t want to do it without you.”
“We might as well give it a try I suppose.”
“Really?” Julie turned in his arms to face him, “you really mean it?”
“What else am I going to do?” He answered with a smile.
“Oh Johnstone,” She kissed him. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
“I must be mad,” he joked and they kissed again. He would do anything to see her smile like this.
“Madly in love, maybe.” Julie quipped back. “I’ve got it all planned out, we’re going to be called ‘J&J security’.”
“Sounds very professional.”
“We are going to need a loan from the bank so I’ve have also been working on a business plan to show them.”
“Wow, I never stood a chance did I?” Johnstone laughed.
“I knew you would see sense in the end.” Julie stood up and pulled Johnstone with her. “Let’s go and book an appointment with Branson’s Bank.”
“No time like the present.”
“Very true, let’s get going.”
Eve had become something of a celebrity in her apartment building, after appearing on TV by Alex’s side. When she had finally returned home her flat was not a complete mess, as she had expected. Her neighbours had rallied together and tidied the chaos left by the Palace guards after her arrest. There were fresh flowers in a vase on the kitchen side, and a flurry of cards and notes of support waiting in her mail box.
She had spent the last few days fielding calls from journalists and well wishers, until she could finally get some peace and quiet. That was until the knock at the door. Eve sunk lower into her sofa and tried to ignore it, hoping that the power of positive thought might banish her latest visitor. But the knock came again. “Go away,” Eve shouted.
“I can’t do that Miss Sullivan, you are needed at the Palace.”
“The Palace?” Eve breathed sitting up attentively.
“Yes Ma’am, could you please open the door?”
Intrigued Eve got up and did as he asked, a smartly turned out Palace guard stood on the other side. “I recognise you.”
“I was part of the President’s guard who accompanied you to the Palace after the President’s birth right was acknowledged.”
“Oh,” Eve thought back to that morning and remembered him standing to attention. “It’s lovely to see you again.” She fluttered her eyelashes and hoped he wasn’t already married.
“You too ma’am.”
Eve wasn’t sure if she imagined it, but she could have sworn there was a twinkle in his eye. Her day was starting to look up. “So what is this Palace business that’s so urgent?”
“The President has asked you to attend a meeting with him as soon as possible.”
“Wow, really?” Eve had wondered if Alex would want to continue their friendship now he was in charge, every hour that had passed without contact had made it seem less likely in Eve’s mind. She was very pleased to find out she’d been wrong.
“Yes, we shouldn’t keep him waiting.” The guard said ushering her out of the apartment.
“No of course not,” she agreed locking the door behind her and heading downstairs. As they crossed the sky scraper district Eve was acutely aware of people pointing at her and whispering, by the time they reached the Plaza she confronted the guard. “Are people talking about me?”
“You were very brave to come forward and risk your life and ensure Alex took his rightful place as President. The people owe you.”
Eve gulped, “I’m not sure I like the sound of that.”
The guard laughed and ushered her inside the Palace gates. “I think you deserve the attention.”
Again Eve could have sworn there was a flirtatious glint in his eye, maybe being famous would have some advantages. “Well it is nice to have you on my side, what’s your name?”
“Livingstone, Adam Livingstone.” He replied leading her though security and to the spiral staircase. “I believe you know the way from here?”
“Yes, thank you Adam, you’ve been a gentleman.” Eve smiled as a slight flush crept up cheeks and went upstairs.
“Oh no,” Alex said seeing the smile, “have you been flirting with the guards again?”
“Maybe a little,” Eve said and threw herself down on the sofa.
Alex laughed, “surprise, surprise.” He said sitting beside her.
“Well it’s not every day a girl gets to flirt with a Palace guard.”
“You sound like Doris.”
“In that case, she sounds like a very sensible woman,” they laughed. “When is she arriving?”
“In a few days hopefully, I’ve sent Sid to fetch her and my family.”
“How exciting. Now I know my cheerful demeanour should be enough, but what did you want to see me about?”
“Well I need someone to oversee the rebuilding of the LCDD and I want you to do it.”
“Me? I don’t know anything about construction.”
“You have worked in that building every day you know what worked and what could be improved, I think you are the perfect person.”
“I do have some ways things could be made more efficient.”
“You’ll be great,” Alex stood up and shouted down the stairs. “Rogers, can you get Diaz to come up with the paperwork?”
“Yes Sir,” came the distant reply.
“You were pretty sure I’d say yes then.” Eve asked as Alex sat back down.
“Well I am the President you know,” they laughed together.
“You seem to be settling in well.” Eve commented once their laughter had subsided.
“Diaz and everyone are being really helpful and patient. I’m just taking it a day at a time.” He shifted uncomfortably, his progress was clearly paining Diaz.
She leaned over and took his hand, “You have nothing to feel bad about. I doubt that someone who was trained all their lives to be President could be doing a better job.”
“No, say it with me, ‘you are doing a great job’.”
“I am doing a great job. I am so glad to see you Eve, you always know just what to say.”
“I am just glad I can make you feel better, you don’t deserve any less.”
“Alex,” a shout from downstairs signalled the arrival of Diaz. “I have the contract.”
“Are you ready to sign your life away Eve?” Alex asked with a smile.
Eve nodded, wondering if she was getting in too deep.
“Ahh good to see you again Eve,” Diaz said placing a pile of paperwork on the dining table. “If you could just come over here.” Eve got up and joined Diaz and Alex at the table, a fountain pen was pushed into her hand. “Please read the contract before you sign, I can answer any questions.” Eve did as she was asked and read through the document, the legalise becoming more acute as she reached the end. “Basically it says that you will endeavour to complete the rebuilding of the LCDD within a certain timeframe and on budget.” Diaz paraphrased.
“That sounds fine,” Eve said and signed the contract with a flourish.
“Wonderful, you’ll be working with the Minister for Technology control, who is ready to brief you.”
“Now?” Eve asked startled.
“No time like the present.” Diaz said cheerfully.
“I suppose not.” Eve said following Diaz down stairs and into a formal meeting room, where the slow progress of rebuilding the LCDD would take place.
The morning had been boring, the whole world had become boring since Alex had left. Doris had found herself sleepwalking through her chores on the farm, her mind preoccupied with daydreams of what Alex could be doing at that very moment. All of which, ended inevitably with beautiful women throwing themselves at him. How Doris wished she had gone with him, to save him from himself if nothing else.
An indignant clucking brought her back to the real world. The chickens were unimpressed with matters of the heart; what bothered them was the fact that the hand in the bucket of feed had stopped working. With a sigh Doris tipped the last few grains and wandered back towards the barn. The thundering of hooves made her pause mid-step. The urgent pace of the horses made her turn back towards the chicken coop to where the road curved round past the farm. The chickens looked up hopefully. Three men on horseback were heading to the village square, kicking up a cloud of dust behind them.
“Alex?” Doris breathed, somehow convinced that he was coming home. She dropped the empty bucket, tore off her apron and ran.
Sid dismounted gratefully and allowed his horse to be led away. Wiping the dust from his face he looked around the village square. It was common knowledge that after the Collapse people had sheltered in motorway service stations, their large concrete halls offering shelter with easy transport links with other survivors. Over time it was natural that permanent communities had grown up around these sanctuaries. This however had not prepared Sid for the reality. The outskirts of the village had been the kind of rural idyll he’d read about, with farms and crops growing in patchwork fields, but the centre of the village was where the might of the Collapse could be felt. Everything was more dilapidated than he had expected. The walls of the main building were a patchwork of aging repairs and the tarmac underfoot was cracked and sprouting grass in places. Pushed on to the grass verges were rusty skeletons of pre-collapse cars lying on cracked dirt the colour of dried blood. The villagers had clearly done their best to look after the services, but without its life blood of electricity an old ruin was all that remained.
As the horses drank gratefully from the water trough a crowd gathered. The new arrivals were being eyed with suspicion and a not altogether friendly mood settled over Sid. That was until an older man pushed his way through. He was pulling on a goldish chain of office, marking him as the mayor, and smiling broadly. “Welcome, Sirs,” he said addressing Sid and the other riders.
“Hi there,” Sid smiled back.
“What can we do for you city folks today?”
“We have come on urgent Palace business.” The mood of the crowd changed. They were less hostile now, more curious.
“Well,” the Mayor puffed out his chest, “just ask and we’ll do our best.”
“I need to speak to Tom and Mary Winthrop as soon as possible.”
The Mayor deflated somewhat. “I will show you to their cottage.”
By the time Doris arrived the excitement was over. “Alex? Was it Alex?” She asked breathlessly. The dispersing crowd ignored her, the old men heading back to the pub inside the Services. “Was it Alex?” she cried, grabbing hold of an arm of a passerby.
“No lass, just some city folk,” the man grumbled.
“Oh.” She was completely deflated. She’d been so sure. Her desertion of duty hadn’t gone unnoticed at the farm.
Old man Jones was waiting for her when she got back. “What did I say to you Doris?”
“I know, but I thought Alex...” She trailed off under his hard stare.
“What did I say?” he asked again.
Doris hung her head. “I’m to stay on the farm all day.”
“I can’t have someone who runs off whenever they feel like it.”
“But I really thought Alex was home.” Doris scrubbed at her eyes, willing herself not to cry in front of him. The disappointment was acute.
“I know you miss him, lass.” He softened slightly. “But he made his choice and you made yours.”
“He’s coming back for me.”
“Maybe, or maybe not. If you were to settle down with my son, this whole farm would be yours one day. Dreams don’t put food in your belly.”
This wasn’t the first time Jones had asked her to marry his son “Alex hasn’t even been gone a month yet. I’m not giving up on him,” she replied hotly.
“But who’s to say he’s coming back?”
“I say he’s coming back...”
“Now listen to me...” Jones interrupted wagging his finger.
Doris saw red, Alex loved her and she loved Alex. Who was this grubby old man to tell her otherwise? “No, you listen to me. Alex will come back for me, it may take a year but he will, and even if he doesn’t I will NEVER marry your son. Bridgee came back and so will Alex,” she shouted, running out of the farm yard and towards the Winthrop’s cottage. She and Alex would be together forever. She’d show Jones and all of them.
The Mayor had rambled on about his village as he led Sid away from the tarmac and concrete and out onto the dusty country road which ran behind. Farms dotted the landscape as they made their way out towards a group of cottages. He extolled the virtues of visiting the Pre-collapse Collection housed in the Services, where there were also a pub, meeting chamber and rooms available. Eventually the Mayor’s sales pitch was cut short as they arrived at the Winthrop’s cottage. As the Mayor knocked loudly, Sid couldn’t help but feel nervous. It was all very well saying ‘bring my parents back’ but now he was here, Sid wondered how he was to break the news. He should have got Alex to write a letter or something. It was too late for second thoughts now, as the Mayor ushered him inside where Tom and Mary were sitting at the kitchen table.
Tom Winthrop wore the mantle of middle age well; his salt and pepper hair and strong jaw gave him a distinguished and capable air. Mary had aged equally well; the country living had brought a healthy glow to her cheeks. Despite the onset of middle age spread there was an elegance about her the struck Sid as soon as he saw her. He could easily imagine that as a young woman it would have been easy to fall in love with her.
The Mayor’s gruff voice caught Sid’s attention. He was saying, “This gentleman has come from the city to see you.”
“Oh,” Mary breathed, worry creasing her face as she automatically thought the worst.
“Thank you for your assistance,” Sid said, shaking the Mayor by the hand. “But I need privacy now.” The Mayor scowled and left reluctantly.
“Please have a seat,” Tom said. “I am Tom Winthrop and this is my wife Mary.”
Sid sat. “My name is Sid Knowles. I am a friend of your son Alex.”
“Is he OK? Please god let him be okay?” Mary asked, unable to conceal her worry any further.
Sid smiled. “Alex is fine. He’s more than fine really.” Sid was about to say more when the front door burst open and a dark haired beauty rushed in.
“Doris?” Mary asked, surprised.
“I need to know...” Doris began, but stopped when she caught sight of Sid sitting at the table. She flushed bright red. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled, starting to back away.
“This gentleman brings news of Alex. Please stay,” Mary said, holding her hand out to Doris. In the weeks since Alex had left they had grown close, united by their love and worry for Alex.
Sid looked at Doris closely as she drew near. There was a vitality about her, an energy which was captivating. Whilst she was not as beautiful as she had first appeared, she seemed more alive than anybody in the room. “You’re Doris?” he asked, and she nodded. “Alex has told me all about you.” Doris beamed at him.
“You were saying, about Alex?” Tom prompted.
“Yes, sorry.” Sid shook himself and returned to the business at hand. “I’ve been wondering how to tell you this, I think it’s best just to say it.” Mary and Tom nodded encouragingly. “Alex is the new President of England.”