You’ll Never Believe A Man Can Fly, Part 19

Posted: 31 January 2013 in fiction, writing, You'll Never Believe A Man Can Fly
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Chapter Ten

After an hour, the Prime Minister had coughed and then suggested, “A break?”

The people in the room had gratefully agreed and they had drifted away from the table in small groups, talking animatedly, taking an occasional look at Clooney, who sat at the table, her head in her hands. She was grateful that no one could see her legs under the table as they were shaking.

A coffee was placed in front of her, and she turned to thank Docherty. Instead, she found herself face to face with the Prime Minister. She started to stand up, but he waved her down. “You’re doing fine, Doctor, just fine.” He smiled warmly at her, briefly put his hand on her shoulder, and then moved off to talk, she could see, to the Leader of the Opposition. She was genuinely touched by the gesture and then Docherty was there, holding a coffee. For a brief second, she wondered whether he’d brought it for her, but then he sipped it and looked at hers, saying only “I see you’ve moved up in the world.”

“Thanks,” she replied, unsmiling. “I have no idea whether or not they’re listening to me or not, you know. I’m sure I saw one of the Americans falling asleep.”

“He’s American,” Docherty said, as if that were all the explanation that was required. “You’re doing well, better than well, in fact. You’ve impressed him for a start,” gesturing towards the back of the Prime Minister, “which isn’t easy, I’d imagine. I didn’t realise you’d prepared so much information. How much more have you got?”

“Bored, are we?” she asked, her features crimpling in what Docherty thought was an attempt at a very tired smile.

He realised that she was genuinely concerned that she was blowing it. He sat next to her. “Look over there,” he said, gesturing towards a group of men in military uniforms. “You’ve got the Chiefs of Staff talking military matters.” He pointed towards the Prime Minister. “Look at him. He’s with his two opposite numbers in the parties wondering what the political and national defence aspects are. And over in that corner, you’ve got intelligence people asking how this affects them. Here you are, Doctor Rosemary Clooney,” he said, using her full name, “you’ve got some of the most important men in the country here, and they’re all listening to you.”

That shook her, he could tell, and he then asked, “what’s next?”

“The rats,” she replied, tipping out the DVD from the folder. She’d asked during her talk whether a DVD player could be made available and was only faintly embarrassed when Bowman had replied “we do have some amenities here, you know,” and had showed her where it was.

“Oh boy,” said Docherty, looking at the PM. “And he thinks he’s been surprised so far. He’s about to get a real shock.”

“Jez,” Clooney said, “there’s one question they’re going to ask me, and I can’t answer it. In fact I’m surprised I haven’t been asked it already.”

“I told you not to anticipate questions that weren’t asked, didn’t I?” he asked, knowing what was coming.

“Yes, but… Where did the material come from? We only got it under a Ministry of Defence contract.” she said. “Only it would make it a lot easier to predict stuff if I knew that.”

Docherty grimaced. “Trust me, Rosemary, it wouldn’t make any difference if you knew. But you’re not going to be asked that. Absolutely not.”

“But why not?” she asked, “isn’t anyone the least bit curious?”

“Haven’t you figured it out yet?” he queried. “They’re not going to ask you, because they already know.”

What?” Clooney cried, loudly enough to attract attention for a moment. Docherty smiled at everyone and they looked away again.

Docherty didn’t altogether blame her. It wasn’t until he’d seen the Americans but representatives from no other countries there that he had put it together. It wasn’t the CIA man that had worried him. It was the other American, the man who the deputy director of intelligence had only identified with his customary drawl as his “sometime colleague from The Depot”.

The Depot was an international code designation for a small town in New Mexico; just under sixty years ago, it had made world headlines, and ever since then, work for a thousand conspiracy theorists for pretty much all of those almost sixty years.

The Depot was Roswell.

– o –

Scott Jordan was drunk.

He was very drunk. In fact, if you’d asked him, he would have said that he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been this drunk. Well, he would have said it, if he could have formed the sentence with any degree of skill. And if he could remember much at all, which wasn’t a sure bet. He considered himself very lucky that his wife couldn’t see him like this. She was on duty this evening.

So he didn’t have to tell her that he’d been fired. Not yet – he was getting drunk so that he didn’t feel guilty about not telling her.

He was also getting drunk because he knew that his firing was unfair. He turned to his drinking companion, the former editor who’d also been fired that afternoon. Strictly speaking, they hadn’t been fired. But in both cases, it had been made clear to them that they were expected to resign. And if they didn’t resign, they would be fired.

When he’d been sober, Jordan was pretty sure why he’d lost his job. Nothing to do with the story per se, but more to do with the reaction. They’d made the newspaper a laughing stock, they’d been told.

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Jordan had protested, firmly of the view that it was hardly his fault if the typesetters had screwed up.

What he didn’t know, and couldn’t be told, was that it wasn’t the managing editor’s idea to fire him. Nor had it been his boss’s idea. And not even the newspaper’s owners had come up with the idea to fire him, although it was at their command that anyone who’d had a say in approving the story was let go.

The owners had received threats. It was as simple as that. None of them knew from where the threats had originated, but they had been conveyed in manners which left no doubt as to their sincerity and seriousness. With one it was blackmail; with another, a threat to the safety of her grandchildren. Another had simply been physically bullied. All had received the same message: fire them.

And so the order had gone out… and two hours later, both Jordan and the editor (as well as some junior staff) were out of work.

In his drunken state, Jordan wasn’t sure who to blame. But his sodden mind was rapidly coming to the conclusion, well as rapidly as it could, that Ian Davies was to blame. With enormous effort, he summoned up the energy to tell this to his former boss, but the other man wouldn’t have heard him even if Jordan could have made the comment intelligible. The former editor of The Guardian, who hours earlier had been responsible for the daily production of one of the country’s great newspapers, was currently responsible solely for laying his head on the bar and snoring softly.

– o –

The level of detritus of coffee cups on the table of Doncaster and Monkton would normally have signified great activity and large amounts of brainstorming. Davies knew this, if only because of the number of nights that he’d worked late in this very room, frantically sketching out press campaigns and media defences.

He still recalled the time when they’d been hired to represent a computer manufacturer whose chief executive had given an interview during which he’d admitted that the machines were never designed to last longer than a couple of years. Davies had known what the man meant: since software increased in power and memory requirements every year, the latest up to date machines this year would be effectively obsolete in three years. But the public, understandably, saw this as a company admitting that their products were useless, what was known in their game as “doing a Ratner”.

After fourteen hours, and constant infusions of caffeine, Davies was the one who’d come up with the solution: an entire campaign based around the idea that most computer purchases were brought by families, and even then, the most frequent users were young adults. What did they care about? Fashion. So the campaign led on the dual concept that “we redesign them to be the most fashionable… and don’t you always want to be ahead of the crowd?” and for the mature adults, “we design them from new every year because we’re the best… and you deserve the best.

The campaign had been a runaway success and had made his name in the agency; Ian Davies later calculated that during those fourteen hours, he’d drunk a little under fifty cups of coffee.

So when he’d been in a meeting with three others for only two hours, and there were, after only that length of time, the remains of several dozen cups of coffee either on the table or in the bins, Davies knew that meant that they should have gotten somewhere.

Except they hadn’t.

For a start, it had taken him some time to stop laughing, and when he’d finished, he’d spent another few minutes wiping his eyes. After that, he’d let Monkton talk. And after he’d finished, Williams took over, by now a fervent convert to the idea. Patt had then added his views, though far more cautiously.

Now, for the past couple of minutes, there had been silence in the room. Davies stood up, and the others stood as well. He looked at them. “Sit down, please, I’m not going anywhere… yet. I just want to stretch my legs.” Patt and Monkton sat down, the latter fiddling with a pen. Williams stayed standing, at least for a minute or so, before Davies, who’d started pacing, noticed him. He said “I said ‘sit down’,” and Williams sat, though not of his own volition. He’d simply found himself shoved down into his chair.

Davies continued pacing, the other three staying silent, even when they noticed that Davies was so deep in thought that he’d actually left the carpet and was pacing the air, as if on an invisible gentle slope. He got higher and higher and just before he banged his head on the ceiling, he blinked. There was a soft “bugger,” before he fell to the ground.

Williams jumped up and made as if to move to him, but Davies stood up and grinned ruefully, “Sorry, that’s the second time that’s happened.” Williams was more relieved than he wanted to admit that Davies had actually apologised, and appeared to mean it.

He sat down and looked directly at Monkton. “I’ve considered your comments carefully,” he said, “but as of yet, I’m not convinced that anything you do will help the situation. Apart from anything else, there are four things that concern me.”

He stood again and walked over to the flip chart in the corner of the office, obviously intending to write down the points. This was a habit of his during planning meetings, and though he didn’t know, it irritated the hell out of both Patt and Monkton, taking time up instead of just getting on with it. Both of them, however, wisely decided to say nothing about it.

Davies picked up a marker pen, looked at it curiously and then let it go. It obediently scribbled a 1. and the word “Credibility” on the blank sheet of paper. Davies turned to the three men and said “First, any credibility I wanted in what Peter accurately described as a public,” he winced at the word, “identity has been utterly destroyed. If today is anything to go by, then if I appear again as the Public Defender, all that’s going to happen is that more people will take the piss out of me.”

Monkton started to say “Yes, well…” but stopped as Davies looked at him. “Let me finish, please, Peter. You can shoot me down in flames after I’ve concluded, okay?”

Monkton nodded, and gestured for him to continue.

“Number two,” Davies said, “as you’ve realised, and as no doubt one or more of the news media will soon report, The Public Defender is me. Ian Davies.” Behind him, the marker wrote a neat 2. and the word “Identity”. Davies continued “I can say goodbye to any private life I had. And despite what you might have guessed from comic books or movies, I don’t have a huge backup to get myself a new identity.”

He looked at the others, as if challenging them to disagree with anything he’d said. Sensibly, they all stayed silent, Williams scribbling on a scratchpad and Patt taking a large swallow of coffee. Only Monkton was looking directly at him. Davies had always liked Monkton, although with the necessary fear that came along with working for a self made man who never missed an opportunity to remind you of it. But this evening, he was developing a respect for the man that far outweighed any previous feelings. He seemed to be the only one who was entirely unafraid of him. Though how much of that was pretence, Davies didn’t know.

“Number three. As well as the end of any private life, I’ve got to figure out what I’m going to do for money.” At this, all three of them looked at the pen write in neat lettering “3. Money/Prospects”, then back at him, and Davies laughed at the idea that they were about to protest. “No, don’t insult me by pretending that I can continue here. I’ve enough experience in this game to know that if I stayed here, the agency is finished as a serious player in the market. And I respect and like this place too much to allow that to happen. And so do you. When were you planning on firing me? Tonight? Tomorrow?”

No-one dared reply.

– o –

© Lee Barnett, 2013

To read part 20 of You’ll Never Believe A Man Can Fly, click here.


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