Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Infernal Coalition: Amazement - and Retaliation

Tuesday 9 February 2010

When Alex pulled into his drive after his late return from London, he was puzzled to see that another car had just arrived ahead of him. It was clearly not Susie’s, and she had in any event mentioned ‘a quiet night in, working on a new project’ when he had called her from the railway station car park less than an hour earlier. He came to a halt behind the other car as the driver extinguished its headlights and opened the door. 

“Hello, Alex, I wondered if I’d find you in. Hope it’s not too late?”

To his further surprise, he realised it was Karen Rutherford. Although they had always been good friends and colleagues on political business in East Worcestershire, she had never visited him at home before.

“No, not at all.” By now Susie had opened the front door. “Come on in. You know Susie, don’t you?”

After Holly had enthusiastically introduced herself to Karen before retreating to her basket, and Alex had sorted out a round of drinks, they all sat down. It was evident that Karen was very much on edge.

“I thought I’d come and see you if I could, as soon as I’d got away from that pathetic charade of a meeting.” Alex realised that she was referring to the latest gathering of the constituency executive committee earlier that evening. “I’ve done something that I’m really ashamed of, and you’re probably one of the only people I can share it with.”

“Hang on a minute, though. You must know I’ve resigned.”

“You can say that again. It was one of the very first things that came up tonight. Not a word of thanks from Nicholson for your past service, just some underhand comment about leaving them in the lurch when there’s so much to do. Then he asks me if I’d step into your shoes and become Deputy Chairman Political.”

“That would be right up your street, wouldn’t it?” Susie chipped in.

“Maybe, but I said I wasn’t interested. It’s all part of the rest of it.”

Alex and Susie waited for Karen to continue. She took a deep breath and composed herself.

“Do you remember the question and answer session at the members’ meeting when we chose Martin Darby? Remember how everyone thought how good he was on all ten of the questions, when the others didn’t come across as anywhere near as skilful as him at thinking on their feet?”

The session was well familiar to Alex, if only for the manner in which it had effectively sealed the fate of one of the other candidates, Olwen Williams.

“Yes, I do. What about it?”

“He was primed. Those questions and answers were supposed to be unseen and unrehearsed, but he had full chapter and verse.”

“Primed?” Alex quickly thought back once more to the members’ meeting. It was plausible – but how? “Full chapter and verse? How do you know?”

It was obvious from the look of dismay on Karen’s face that she had a dark confession to make.

“Because it was me. I did the priming. I fed Darby every single question. That’s what I’m really ashamed of, now that this other business has come out.”

The further revelation left Alex and Susie completely lost for words. Karen continued, her composure evidently fully regained after she had unburdened herself of her secret. 

“You know I’ve been trying to get on the candidates’ list myself? I applied once about three years ago. I was turned down and told to get myself some more political experience before trying again. That’s when I first met that horrible man Marcus Haines.”

Alex nodded for Karen to continue.

“He recognised me when he came up for that first meeting, the one when they said they wouldn’t be putting you up to fill the last place.” Karen looked towards Susie and caught her full attention. “Right at the end, when we were all queuing to leave, he took me aside and asked me to go into the clerk’s room and explain to the candidates that they’d all be going through to the last round, and that I should wait there for him.”

“Yes, of course, he was standing on the door collecting in CVs.” Alex remembered the argument he had had with Nicholson before leaving, and did not add that Haines had not wholly discharged his duties.

“When he and Nicholson came in and found us all, he asked me to step outside for a quick chat, and asked me who I thought I liked the most. I said Darby and Kendall. He thanked me for that. Went on to tell me he could be in a position to give me a leg up for next time around, and we exchanged phone numbers. I nearly thought he was going to proposition me.”

“Interesting, but how does this involve Darby and the members’ questions?”

“Well, on the Wednesday night before the final selection meeting, he rang me. He said he’d like me to give Martin Darby a call to run through some possible questions for the meeting. I could just about work out what was going on. I asked him whether it was a good idea to be doing something like that, and he said that surely I’d appreciate it if I was in someone’s final shortlist. There was something sinister about the way he put it – almost as if I could kiss goodbye to any chances of my own to get on the candidates’ list if I didn’t play along.”

“I don’t believe it. Are you sure?” Alex was astounded to hear of yet another twist to the process that had led to the selection of East Worcestershire’s candidate.

“I wish I wasn’t. But I am. I was told to read out all ten questions, make notes on how he answered them, and report back to Haines on how Darby answered. That’s exactly what I did. It was really pathetic of me.”

“Well, isn’t that just great. He makes sure that his fingerprints aren’t anywhere to be seen, so it’s deniable, and your prospects of getting on the approved list are down the drain if you don’t play ball. Welcome to the political class – have a nice day.”

As Alex reached for his pint glass, Susie realised there was something else just as important, if not more so.

“So who fed the questions to Haines?”

Karen was the first to answer.

“Oh God. It could only have been Nicholson. He must have been in on it.” She seemed about to burst into tears as Susie put a comforting arm around her shoulder.
“Right, that does it.” Still holding Karen, Susie turned to Alex.....

* * * * *
So what happened next? What exactly did Susie's retaliation involve? There's only one way to find out. The links to the Amazon and Lulu pages to order a copy of Infernal Coalition are on the right. And if you're in need of a double fix of legal suspense, why not order a copy of Hatred Ridicule & Contempt too?

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