What will tomorow bring?
Simon approached the room where he was told his friend and colleague Jack Spence had set up shop that morning. It seemed to Simon that the oversized door deliberately revealed the scene within. Sunlight cascaded through four tall windows casting visible shafts through swirling dust. Before the windows a huge oak desk and before that a beast of a chesterfield sofa, clad in bottle green leather. Jack was sat on the chesterfield at one end but instead of being dwarfed by the opulent furniture he seemed to be magnified into an even more impressive figure than his perfect physique already presented. Jack had the knack of being able to adopt any pose and look the image of self-confidence. Simon had always envied that aspect of Jack the most. Jack had the looks that gave him a head start in any situation. Added to a voice which resonated at a bass level that demanded respect it was clear that this was a man with natural charisma.
The air in the room was close, or so it seemed to Simon. Despite the grand scale of the room he had a feeling of claustrophobia that he had not felt in many years but which he quickly placed. This could have been his father’s study back in Heaton Hall.
‘Si! Sit yourself down. We need to talk about the anniversary address.’
Three years earlier Simon Hazlett emerged from St Pauls tube and stepped into a dark October morning. A misty rain swirled in the air and settled on Simon’s face creating an instant dew drop on his nose that was going to annoy him all day. The aroma from the Starbucks bar in the station entrance gave way to musty raincoats and diesel from passing taxi cabs. The rhythmic splashing warned Simon to keep away from the kerb.
Simon was still trying to shake off the disappointment of losing the election for president of the Students Union. He knew the reasons for his failure only too well. For all his brilliance he would never overcome his fear of talking to crowds that had developed out of his deep loathing of his own personality and appearance. He needed a new strategy or better still a foil to perform his great works.
Turning down an alley Simon passed an all too familiar scene: a young City Jack-the-Lad, recently let go by some banking institution just as his star was rising, was scoring some coke. The dealer glanced at Simon but made no attempt to conceal the deal. Perhaps he considered Simon a potential customer for the future? Further down in Paternoster Square Simon reached the camp. The Protest, revived in the summer of 2012, had moved from the Cathedral and was now a semi-permanent village with cooking facilities, large tents providing both sleeping and office facilities with media links on-site. A must for political bloggers and tweeters to visit this was the protest to be seen at. Simon didn’t care about that. He had come to see one of the faces of The Protest, in fact the face. Jack Spence was photographic dynamite. With tousled dark hair tumbling over chiselled features his image had gone viral. He had become the Ché Guevara of the 21st Century in the space of a few months. Simon had plans – Jack would be his perfect foil.
Simon suppressed the dread brought on by the memory of his father and walked over to an armchair, all green leather and brass studs to match the grand chesterfield. He sat down facing Jack and did his best to look relaxed. But if the truth were told he was more than a little uneasy about the recent turn of events. A year had passed since the coup that had enabled The Movement to take control of the country and create The First Republic. The people had long since been convinced by Simon’s rhetoric, as delivered through Jack, that The Movement had all the right answers. Following the total collapse of the global financial markets and the chaos that followed, with the banks seizing all the property they could lay their hands on, the people were ready to follow a new leader who would give them back their homes and release them from impossible debts. Now, on the anniversary of the coup, it was time for Jack to deliver the anniversary address to the nation.
‘I’ve been giving it a lot of thought.’ Simon replied.
Simon had indeed been thinking a lot about the address. It was time for him to emerge from of the shade of his protégé and become more visible to the people. His father would be proud of this achievement and the people would know what those in the corridors of power already knew: that Simon Hazlett was the real architect of this brilliant revolution.
‘How do you like my new office?’ Jack’s voice resonated through the still air and was given additional power by the deep bass acoustics of the room. Jack had chosen well.
‘It suits you down to the ground, but why here? We agreed we would stay neutral from the old government. We should stick to our principles.’
‘You mean your principles.’
Jack’s eyes flashed and Simon detected a glare that increased his feeling of unease.
‘Why this place though? What’s wrong with The Beacon?’ Simon had set up the headquarters of The First Republic in a former temple to capitalism, removing all references to its previous occupants and purpose and renamed the building The Beacon. To Simon this was perfect symbolism that separated their ideology from the anachronistic government of old and demonstrated their principal aim of cleaning the financial slate for the good of all the people.
‘I wanted to be nearer to our military allies and besides I get a great view of The Mall. You’re here all the time for your mutual arse-licking sessions with the Heads. What do you talk about anyway?’ The sneer in Jack’s voice was clear now. This was a different Jack. To Simon this looked like a childish tantrum. Jack just wanted to flex his wings. If that was all that this was about then Simon could deal with it. He would give Jack some rope – just a bit.
‘We agreed that I would do all the schmoozing behind closed doors while you would be the public face of our glorious victory and transformation.’ Simon smiled and made his cheek bulge with his tongue. Then, offering a serious response he continued. ‘Look. I persuaded the military to join us so it makes sense for me to keep close to them. Why don’t you come along to the Executive Briefing this afternoon and see just how boring it gets.’
Jack stared past Simon as if he was pondering his next move. He gave a little nod and glance to his left. Startled, Simon looked behind and saw the object of Jack’s signal. A formidable figure stood blocking the door as if to ensure Simon could not escape the room – preposterous though that seemed to Simon.
Jack grinned in a way that completely disarmed all women, and most men for that matter. ‘I want to thank you.’ He paused to give the statement some effect. ‘I want to thank you for getting me here, to this place’ said with a gesture in the air but Simon knew he meant more than just this room. ‘I couldn’t have got here without you Si. Simon Hazlett, the master strategist, the great manipulator. I swear you sometimes scare me with your silver tongue, and the words you’ve put in my mouth over these past three years have been dynamite. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but the people love me thanks to you. I’m not just a face I’m a leader.’ Jack paused again, perhaps looking for acknowledgment. ‘But you would have been nothing without me too. We’re a perfect double act: the face and the schemer; the shining star and the faceless agent; or how about beauty and the beast.’ Another grin and another pause.
Simon flinched at the last few words. Jack had never been cruel to Simon yet this brought back painful memories of the distant past.
‘You see Si, it’s like this. I was the one doing all the scheming. When you came to see me at The Camp I was small time. Yes I had my face on soppy girl’s T-Shirts and all over the press. But I was only ever in it for the publicity. To be honest I didn’t really know what I was going to do next – some TV, try a bit of acting maybe. Then, there you are with all your ideas and ideals. I thought – brilliant! This is going to be better than a stint on Big Brother.’ Jack moved from his reclining position and leaned forward looking straight at Simon he gestured in the air with a click of his fingers. The guard opened the door stepped out and closed the door again.
Jack, speaking softly now, continued. ‘You gave me the biggest opening I could have ever hoped for. You’re like a master publicist. Si, you really are the best thing that could have come along that day. We were going nowhere. You made us more than just another protest, you gave us substance. You made us into something the people could believe in.’ Jack sat back slightly and cast his eyes down in, was it mock shyness? ‘I needed you then.’ Eyes locked on Simon again. ‘Maybe I still need you – but on my terms this time.’
The stark realisation of Simon’s stupidity came all at once. Beads of sweat formed on his brow as he took in the scale of the situation. But wait – Simon held all the cards, he had the backing of the military. Jack could bleat all he liked… Simon’s thoughts raced from one possibility to another but he had no time to analyse, he had to react.
‘Terms? Aren’t you getting ahead of yourself Jack? Like I said. I’ll get you more involved in the grunt work, because that’s all it is really – if that’s what you want.’ Simon went on the offensive. ‘What we’ve built her is fragile. We have the people behind us because we saved them from financial chaos. We gave them hope and dignity. But let’s be honest we made some powerful enemies along the way. Without the military we lose everything.’ Simon tried again to relax. It wasn’t working. For all his ability to manipulate there was something different about this situation. Why couldn’t he work his magic on Jack? Why couldn’t he read him? Why didn’t he see this coming? Simon usually knew what people were going to do before they even did – why was he blind to what Jack had been up to?
‘OK, maybe it’s time for change.’ Simon tried another approach and revealed what he had in mind for the anniversary address. ‘Maybe it’s time to start talking about a return to democracy. That could diffuse a shitload of missiles aimed at us; it would be popular with the people; would get us back on terms with the international community…’
‘Fuck that!’ Jack cut Simon short. ‘I’m not giving this up for you or anyone.’ Again a wave in the air – but it was absolutely clear where Jack’s mind was now. And it was now, as his head was clearing that Simon first noticed the shiny metal object underneath a piece of cloth next to Jack on the chesterfield – what was he doing with gun?
Seeing Simon spot the magnum that he had been polishing with great care earlier Jack picked it up. Lifting it to eye level he looked along the barrel and straight at Simon. ‘I’m not interested in votes. The people absolutely adore me. I’m their saviour not you. You’re nothing as far as the people are concerned. I can replace you but you won’t replace Jack Spence, The Glorious Leader of The First Republic.’
Jack stood up and took aim.
The force of the bullet hitting Simon’s chest pushed him back into the leather armchair. There wasn’t any pain but his instinct to jump up and run was met by a feeling of utter hopelessness. His body couldn’t respond and his mind wandered into distant memories: happy summer days with his mother at Heaton Hall; the look of disgust that he would always associate with his father; the first time he was rejected by a girl; the first time he discovered he could talk people into doing virtually anything; the day he met Jack; …then nothing.