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Goodfellowe MP Michael Dobbs Michael Dobbs’ classic available in ebook format for the very first time.Michael Dobbs’ popular new character Tom Goodfellowe, the crumpled backbench MP, makes his debut and takes on the might of the press in this highly acclaimed novel of power and corruption – now reissued in a new cover style. MICHAEL DOBBS Goodfellowe MP Dedication (#) For Isabelle and John Contents Cover (#u1d2e053f-1FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474) Title Page (#u1d2e053f-2FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474) Dedication (#u1d2e053f-3FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474) One (#u1d2e053f-5FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474) Two (#u1d2e053f-6FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474) Three (#litres_trial_promo) Four (#litres_trial_promo) Five (#litres_trial_promo) Six (#litres_trial_promo) Seven (#litres_trial_promo) Eight (#litres_trial_promo) About the Author (#litres_trial_promo) Also by the Author (#litres_trial_promo) Copyright (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) ONE (#) Thomas Goodfellowe made a grab for the brakes, only narrowly avoiding a fall to the pavement. He wasn’t yet in full command of his machine, an ancient bicycle with a scratched green frame and a mind of its own. He hadn’t ridden a bike in thirty years and if he hadn’t exactly forgotten how to ride, it was certainly taking time to make contact with the memories. Something had worked its way loose. He hoped it wasn’t him. The streets of London’s Chinatown were congested with early-evening traffic. Obstacles were everywhere. Travellers rushing, tourists crushing, grubby urchins begging, lovers with blind eyes and revellers whose eyes if not blind were distinctly blurred, with every one of them apparently intent on tumbling from the pavement and falling directly into his path. A kamikaze run, he reckoned, this stretch of Little Newport Street that led to the tube station, but it had been entirely his fault. His eyes had wandered from the road as he waved to Madame Tang. Mind you, since he’d moved into Chinatown some months earlier he’d learnt that it was worth taking a few risks to be on the good side of Madame Tang. She was not so much a feature of the neighbourhood but was the neighbourhood. Of incalculable age and all but invisible wispy hair, she was draped in an ancient woollen cardigan so worn and full of holes that she might have been mistaken for a destitute, shuffling along the pavement pushing a shopping trolley in search of a few fresh vegetables. She had always shuffled, even at the age of thirteen when she had tramped across China, her family’s few possessions strapped upon her back, trying to keep from the clutches of Chiang Kai-shek’s retreating Kuomintang hordes. Black days those, with memories drawn in burning charcoal. Yet nowadays the winds of fortune blew more kindly for Madame Tang. Her eldest son had a degree in engineering from Cambridge, her second son possessed a still better degree from Yale, and beneath that misshapen cardigan dangled a huge bunch of keys which marked Madame Tang as one of the most powerful landlords in Chinatown, with an empire that embraced legitimate commercial premises, dens of impropriety and assorted short-lease apartments which she controlled with considered ruthlessness. And she understood ruthlessness. The soldiers of the Kuomintang had taught her everything there was to know, a lifetime of lessons crammed into one endless weekend in Wuhan when she passed through their hands. It was the last occasion she had seen her two younger sisters and mother, and the last occasion she had ever cried. After that she never indulged in sentiment, and never gave a second chance. Yes, it was worth taking a few risks to be on the good side of Madame Tang. With a show of reluctance, she acknowledged his wave and shuffled by, clearing her throat in the traditional Chinese manner, which sounded as though she were scraping barnacles, while Goodfellowe’s attentions were drawn to the doorway behind her, where another female figure stood in shameless, almost indecent contrast. Young, barely nineteen but with older eyes, weary from spending too long off her feet and dressed in Lycra hot pants which left not even her moles to the imagination. It was Loretta, longingly watching the world go by just as, she hoped, it lustfully watched her. Two floors above was the room she called her cockpit, rented from Madame Tang, who retained the only key to the premises. It was where Loretta entertained her clients. Loretta described herself as an ordinary working girl, commuting each day from Brighton where she lived with her young daughter and ailing mother, on whose behalf only last week she had sought Goodfellowe’s advice. Something about a housing allowance. He couldn’t be of much help, but at least he had listened, which was more than most. She owed him. From her catwalk on the doorstep she caught his eye and mouthed a few silent words in his direction. He puckered his brow in concentration, unable to catch her meaning, so she repeated the message, her rubied lips shaping the words in a slow and deliberate manner, almost like a nun at devotions. Now he caught her drift and found he was smiling in spite of himself, before quickly glancing away, afraid his cheeks were showing colour. Wouldn’t do accepting such an offer, even if as she was suggesting no money changed hands. The News of the World wouldn’t understand and neither, he suspected, would his constituents. Nor the Chief Whip. Didn’t he know it but the Government was in enough trouble without enforced resignations, even from the obscurity of the backbenches. Still, he reflected, casting a final, fleeting look in Loretta’s direction, he could think of worse reasons to burn and sometimes, particularly of late, burning seemed an almost attractive fate. He pedalled on. Loretta was scarcely a couple of years older than his own daughter Samantha. No, wouldn’t do, not by any stretch of his middle-aged imagination. Thoughts of Sammy pressed upon him, even more troublesome than the traffic on Charing Cross Road. Oh, Sammy. How much he owed her, how boundless was the part she played in his world, and how stupidly insignificant were the things which nowadays seemed to deplete their lives and form the focus of their row. Row. Not rows, not several of them, but one seamless collision of Goodfellowe stubbornness that felt as though it had lasted without pause since the last summer holiday when, at the age of fifteen, she hadn’t come home till two. The youthful anger that poured out had seemed relentless, like a river in flood. No sooner had he found some means of damming it than it found another, still more unpredictable and chaotic course. What was it last weekend? Yes, of course, her mother’s locket. He pedalled more energetically, trying to work off his anger. She’d come home on exeat from school, that cripplingly expensive palace of teenage entertainments where they appeared to focus all their energies on finding new ways of extracting money from parents, to announce that she was organizing a charitable fashion show. To him it had seemed yet another excuse to raid his wallet; for her it had been little less than a moral crusade. ‘Fashion Against Famine!’ or some such nonsense. If her words had been sentimental and naive, his had been inexcusably dismissive. But it hadn’t been just the money. She had asked for her mother’s locket. Not to borrow, not just for the fashion show, but for keeps. ‘She doesn’t need it any more. Won’t even know it’s gone, Daddy!’ Sammy had protested. And that’s what had hurt, scraped open wounds that had never properly healed. Of course she was right. He had bought Elinor the locket to celebrate their wedding anniversary, a lifetime ago when Sammy had been almost twelve and her brother Stevie almost fourteen. Sammy had helped him choose it, had wrapped it for him and admired it from first sight with such an intensity that her mother had promised that, one day, it would be hers. None of them had understood how quickly that day might come. So he had said no, refused her, not yet willing to let go. Sammy had shouted and argued that it was what her mother would have wanted, and then it was his turn to raise his voice and demand to know how the hell she knew what her mother wanted. They used their anger as shields. Hurting each other, because they were family. Goodfellowes. Sammy had returned to school on Sunday, early and in silence, leaving him to feel as though he had been stranded on an ice floe. That’s what he liked about his rented apartment in Chinatown, not just that it was small and cheap and close to Westminster and because the streets offered impulse and inspiration to rouse the dullest of wits, but even more because you could never be alone in Chinatown, not in the way you could on an ice floe. The next few moments were to amount to a minute and a half of intense and potentially dangerous confusion. He was preoccupied by lingering thoughts of Sammy, and distracted by the small band of buskers playing jazz on the steps of the Garrick in the half-hour before the theatre doors opened. His new shoes were rubbing raw, which didn’t help when you were about to launch yourself upon Trafalgar Square in the teeth of the rush hour. And if he had to carry his mobile phone along with copies of Hansard and a bottle of Bulgarian Cabernet in the battered wicker basket on his handlebars, he really should have switched the damned thing off. But it started to burble just as he passed South Africa House, just as the traffic lights changed, just as dusk began to muster her forces and take control of the sky – and just as a retired actuary from Margate, jaw defiant beneath uncompromising NHS horn-rims, and driving his treasured Vauxhall in town for the first time in twelve years, came to a complete halt in the middle of the intersection while he attempted to locate the switch for his sidelights. Cabbies shouted, traffic weaved, Chaos Theory took the entire east side of the square in its grip. Butterfly wings had nothing on retired actuaries from Margate. Goodfellowe, caught off guard while scrabbling for his phone, lost control. The chauffeur in the Rolls-Royce behind had witnessed both the mounting confusion and the changing lights. He had also seen what he thought to be a gap, a window of opportunity, a chance to beat the muddled masses. And his passenger was in a hurry. So he had put his foot down, only to find the leap for freedom suddenly barred by what appeared to be an attempted suicide. His foot slammed from accelerator to brake. Turbo drive to rodeo ride. From the back seat of the wildberry-red Silver Dawn, an exasperated and freshly rumpled passenger bent down to gather up his scattered documents. Then he turned to mouth an unmistakably personalized oath at the cyclist. Thomas Goodfellowe, tribune of the people and Member of Parliament for Marshwood, had had his first brush with Frederick E Corsa, a man who took pride in representing no one but himself. At almost the same moment as he was staring into the storm-whipped eyes of Freddy Corsa, another confrontation was taking place which was to have an equally significant effect on Tom Goodfellowe’s life and reputation. Scarcely more than a moderate stone’s throw from Little Newport Street could be found ‘Zhu’s Apothecary’ – but only if one knew where to look. The entrance stood in a covered alleyway off one of Chinatown’s back streets, and nothing but a small window presented itself to the street. The pseudo-Shanghai lamp-post which had once illuminated the end of the alleyway had been moved – at the insistence of the local feng-shui man and at the considerable expense of the City of Westminster – ten yards farther down the pavement, leaving both alley and apothecary in the grey shadow of evening. All sight of the frugal herbal emporium inside was blocked by display cases packed with the strange wares of the Oriental pharmaceutical trade – weirdly shaped roots, seeds, exotic barks, deer tails, dissected life forms of indeterminate origin, sun-dried sea horses and absurdly twisted ginseng, forces of herbalism that offered restoration and renewal from an extraordinary range of ailments, many of which Western medicine scarcely pretended to understand and some it hadn’t even heard of. Chinese doctors, as Mr Zhu was fond of remarking, had been at it a long time, surgically removing abdominal tumours under anaesthetic while Boadicea was still bathing in pig shit and knee-capping Romans. ‘Westerners strange,’ he reflected in his castrated English. ‘Pay doctors when sick. Chinese punish doctor when sick, pay to keep healthy.’ And so from a hundred different bottles and a score of rosewood drawers he would dispense herbs and potions, weighing out the ingredients in his hand-held scales and wrapping them in twists of brown paper, while above him a bright brass ceiling fan turned slowly, mixing the peppery aromas and pushing them gently around his unpretentious shop. Mostly his customers were, like Zhu himself, from Hong Kong, with a scattering of regulars from the other Malay, Singapore and Vietnamese Chinese communities which were threaded through the fabric of Chinatown. Western customers were few, and usually ignorant, ripe for picking. Often they had little idea of what they wanted and no idea of what they were getting; they were there to experience the atmosphere rather than the herbal cures, most of which required lengthy boiling and smelled foul. So he would mix ingredients like a short-order chef, a pinch of this and a handful of that, anything which could do little harm and which would smell inoffensive to the squeamish Western nose. Much of the bulk was made up of used tea leaves from his brother’s restaurant in Gerrard Street, which his niece and receptionist, Jya-Yu, dried in the kitchen out back. ‘Every ingredient tested,’ he would promise with a grin, although his teeth protruded and his accent was so bad that few Westerners would understand, happily lost in the performance as his hands moved like a magician’s above the piles of strangely coloured herbs. They would smile, Mr Zhu would smile and give a little bob and bow, and on most days everyone would be happy. But not today. The previous night had been a long and difficult one for Zhu, locked in a fevered game of pei-gau in the basement room beneath Madame Tang’s cake shop. He had emerged at three a.m. with a savage headache and without a penny of the two thousand pounds he’d had in his pocket at the start of the evening. ‘Fate’, as Jya-Yu had pronounced caustically, trying to put the disaster behind them, but Uncle Zhu was the type of man who always believed in giving Fate a little helping hand. So when the callow corporate-image executive shambled into his shop after an extended lunch, demanding tiger bone as a pick-me-up for his manhood and digging in his suit pocket for a handful of notes, Uncle Zhu was not slow to see the possibilities. ‘Tiger bone not legal,’ he warned, unable to scrape his eyes from the cash. ‘Neither’s not paying your VAT,’ the young man responded gruffly and dug out yet more crumpled notes. ‘Come on. Tiger bone. The real stuff.’ Jya-Yu muttered a warning but Uncle Zhu spat back, his judgement temporarily impaired by poverty and his inability to cure his own headache. ‘Fate,’ he snapped, and proceeded to rummage in a drawer at the bottom of the counter, out of sight of the customer. He reappeared with a twist of silver paper, which he opened with considerable care on the counter to reveal a small spoonful of pale grey-white powder. ‘That all?’ rasped the image executive, swaying slightly. ‘Give me more. Tonight’s a big night.’ Zhu ducked down again and bobbed back up with a second twist. ‘Plenty strong, even for big man like you,’ he chuckled. He exposed the additional powder before carefully rewrapping both parcels. He looked deep into the executive’s eyes, which were glazed, focusing in a laboured manner. The breath smelt desiccated, dried by too much red wine. Uncle Zhu decided to add another fifty per cent to the first price he’d thought of. ‘Hundred and fifty.’ Surprisingly, Uncle Zhu’s accent coped with figures far better than any other aspect of the English language and it appeared to be the first part of the transaction the customer even partially understood. ‘A hundred and fifty what?’ ‘Pounds. Hundred and fifty pounds,’ Uncle Zhu responded. ‘What? For two tiny packets?’ the customer continued, picking up the twists in the hand that was not holding the money. ‘Very genuine. Very rare.’ Zhu extended his hand for payment, a gesture which the customer, a man of overactive imagination and Bruce Lee fantasies, somehow translated as a demand with menace. ‘You’re ripping me off, you little yellow bastard. You’re not getting me. Shouldn’t be here in the first place.’ He began to back out towards the door. ‘Bet you’re an illegal, no work permit. You wouldn’t dare call the police.’ At this point Uncle Zhu let forth a minor hurricane of untranslatable Cantonese but made no move to come out from behind the protection of his counter. Instead it was Jya-Yu who chased after the fleeing customer, catching hold of his sleeve as he reached the end of the alley and was about to disappear into the crowded street. A shouting match ensued as Jya-Yu continued to tug at his arm and a small crowd rapidly gathered, although no one attempted to intervene, not even Uncle Zhu who had at last left the protective custody of his apothecary and stood remonstrating from the end of the alleyway. The noise level grew. ‘What’s going on here, then?’ A new voice had entered the fray. ‘All right, all right. Cut it out or I’ll nick the both of you.’ The local constabulary had arrived but, at first, seemingly to little effect. Uncle Zhu maintained his stream of abuse, gesticulating at the man, while Jya-Yu, whose English was normally at least passable, found her control of the language falling to pieces in the excitement. Around them the voluble gathering of Chinese traders and foreign tourists offered noise but no greater understanding. Puzzled, the constable turned to the image executive. ‘Perhaps you can explain, sir?’ The sight of the blue uniform had had a remarkable effect upon the young man. His voice had lost all trace of its contemptuous tone while the glaze had disappeared from his eyes, which were now sharp, calculating. ‘Damned if I know, officer. I was just walking back to my office for a meeting when this girl comes up. Says for a hundred and fifty she’ll give me anything I want. When I said I wasn’t interested she starts having a go at me.’ The youthful constable examined Jya-Yu. She didn’t look much like a tart. Very little make-up, a vigorously coloured silk jacket that was perhaps a little gaudy. Anyway, most Chinese vice was kept very much to themselves, not paraded out on the streets. Maybe she was an amateur, doing a little freelancing. ‘You’re saying she propositioned you for sex, sir?’ ‘Absolutely. Anything I wanted, any way I wanted it. She’s a hooker.’ He sniffed righteously. ‘But I don’t go in for that sort of stuff.’ At that point Jya-Yu, unable to express herself in any other fashion, launched herself at the man, clubbing at him, scratching. Uncle Zhu resumed his screaming and the crowd began to press closer. It was the sort of situation where a young constable might lose both his helmet and his reputation. He radioed for back-up. It was as the constable stepped in to separate Jya-Yu from the executive that he noticed a small packet fall to the ground. A silver twist which, on closer inspection, contained a white powder he couldn’t identify. Not for certain, at least, not until it had gone for testing, but he reckoned he was already way ahead of the forensic lab at Lambeth. ‘Yours, sir?’ he asked the executive. ‘Mine? Never!’ ‘Miss?’ the constable turned to Jya-Yu, but all he got was a stream of untranslatable abuse and a further indiscriminate pounding of fists. He was still holding her wrists when the wagon arrived and a WPC took control of the struggling girl. Jya-Yu was led to the cover of the alleyway where she was searched. That’s when the police discovered two things. The first was that, in the confusion, the executive had disappeared. The other was that in Jya-Yu’s jacket pocket, where the executive had thrust it during the struggle, was the second twist of powder. The retired actuary from Margate had still not budged, mesmerized by the swaying of the windscreen wipers, still desperately surfing his switches, wits dulled by the insistent horns of complaint which surrounded him. Up to this point he’d always been censorious about drink-driving; now he considered it might be the only option. Meanwhile the Silver Dawn had eased away and already Corsa’s attentions had been dragged elsewhere. There were always reasons for his attentions to be dragged elsewhere. As Chairman of the Granite News Group (‘one of Europe’s most rapidly expanding and profitable newspaper publishing companies’, as his annual report proclaimed), he lived on a diet of distractions. A headline on a front page. A detail in a corporate report. Finance. His charitable works, or perhaps an engaging woman, both of which he used for public effect. Then there was the new headquarters complex in Docklands. And more finance. Much More Finance. The newspaper world had changed almost beyond recognition in recent years, somehow skipping over several stages of the industrial revolution. A world that had once been centred on the Gothic wine bars and union chapels of Fleet Street had, in the shadows of night and through the legs of wild-eyed pickets, been shifted out into several large cakes of concrete scattered along the banks of the Thames. Printing presses and distribution operations, traditionally run by the Spanish practices of the union fathers and manned by phantoms and cartoon characters, were now run by New World Control Systems Inc of Korea and scarcely required manning at all. Corsa had been a prominent rebel in this revolution – ‘a modern-day Merchant of Venice who has fallen upon more refined table manners,’ as the Investors Digest had once jibed. The sensitive souls over at the Commission for Racial Equality must’ve been out to lunch that day and missed the point, but anyone of consequence in the newspaper industry understood. Corsa wasn’t ‘one of us’. Could never be. Bad blood. His father, the founder of the Granite Group, had been an Italian and a prisoner of war who had lost patience with his countrymen’s predisposition to chaos during his one-sided battle with Montgomery and sandflies in the deserts of North Africa. His flight from the true path had been encouraged still further by his POW indenture on a Norfolk farm, where he had come to admire the English, their inherent reserve and particularly the fair-skinned daughters. So Papa had stayed on. His admiration, however, was not always reciprocated in a country still struggling with food queues and black-market nylons. Many simply took the view that Papa Corsa was and would always be a first-generation wop and, still worse, an uppity wop at that. So he’d been cautious, conservative, bought a share in a failing local newspaper and slowly created what became a modest-sized yet comfortably successful newspaper operation. But no knighthood, certainly no peerage, none of the public respects normally accorded to newspaper proprietors and not even much of the fear, not even after he had rescued the ailing Herald and restored it to significance amongst the Fleet Street dailies. But Papa wasn’t bitter. ‘If we’d gone back to Italy to run newspapers there,’ he would explain in his pasta accent to his Winchester-educated son, ‘we’d probably be sweating in a prison cell along with all the rest. Be happy with what we have, Freddy.’ Yet Freddy never was. He’d resented being two inches shorter than all the others at school, no way was he going to have others look down on him after he’d joined the family firm. ‘I bought my manners in Winchester,’ he would later relate with his habitual smile, ‘but I bought my boots in Naples. And neither place sold much scruple.’ Freddy developed an appetite as sharp as a flensing knife and, at the age of thirty-five, pushed his way past his ailing father to usurp the Granite chair, vowing that the Corsas would never again be ignored. In less than five years Freddy had been as good as his word. He had turned the starched and stuffy Herald into a tabloid, added an evening edition and several hundred thousand to its circulation, and bought a series of regional and magazine titles to support it until Granite had matched its corporate claim about being ‘one of Europe’s most rapidly expanding newspaper publishing companies’. Still not in the premier league, perhaps, but well on the way. Trouble was it had not, in spite of the hyperbole, also become ‘one of the most profitable’. He’d borrowed dear and floated the new Granite Group in a sea of debt, only to see interest rates rise and paper costs spiral. Advertising revenues had shattered, while his competitors took him on in a series of desperate price-cutting wars. And then it got worse. Just as all the froth and fizz was leaking away from the newspaper market the Government had announced, at the insistence of its masters in the European Commission, that it would introduce a new Press (Diversity of Ownership) Bill designed to break the stranglehold which in the view of Monsieur Bourgeois, the Commissioner, was enjoyed and abused by the largest newspaper groups. ‘Competition, not cartel!’ Monsieur B had declared with Gallic fervour and the British Government, almost alone in Europe, had taken him seriously. So the legislative knee was bent. Observers, unused to the inverted logic that a Government should push around the media, predicted conflagration. Having lit the blue touch paper, the Government would now be expected to retire. But the expected open warfare failed to materialize. The biggest players, already frustrated by the diminishing returns on their investments in newspapers, were growing increasingly distracted by new adventures. ‘I’ve packed my rucksack,’ one of Corsa’s fellow moguls had muttered over lunch in the Savoy Grill, explaining his decision to desert the rock face of Fleet Street for the fertile ground of cable television. ‘This ledge on which we press barons live has given us a great view, but it’s grown too damned draughty for my comfort. Time to find a new perch.’ They’d had their fun and now the big boys seemed almost content to dump a few titles – to the advantage of the second-rank players like Corsa. Or so it seemed. During the first week of the announcement he’d vociferously supported the new Bill and the opportunities it represented to pick up still more titles and move into the big time. By the second week, however, the prospective sales had served only to drag down share prices across the sector, including the price of Granite shares. Shares that Corsa had used to guarantee his huge bank borrowings. Whoops. The bankers. Let me die alongside my bankers! That way I’ll be sure to take the bastards with me … They’d called a meeting for next week, wanted to discuss the covenants he’d given them for the most recent thirty million pounds. No problem. Not yet at least. He’d get through that one as he’d got through all the discussions with his bankers over the last eighteen months. Encourage them with praise, confuse them with inflated prospects, weigh them down with paper, above all allow them to be deceived by their own voracious appetites and ambitions. Corsa had added so many new companies and newspaper titles to the Granite chain that there had never been two consecutive balance sheets that were comparable. Assets, valuations, hypothecations and depreciations, he’d moved them all around the financial chess board with a speed that left his opponents, and occasionally even himself, bemused. No one knew that so much of the bottom line of the Granite accounts which he proudly proclaimed as profit existed only on paper. No one knew, not yet. But they would. In those silent moments at the very end of day, when sleep eluded him and darkness allowed ghouls and hobgoblins to prey, he knew his time was running out. They were passing the statue of King Charles I which stood at the end of Whitehall looking down towards the parliament buildings. The Killing Field, where they had taken the King one freezing January morning, paraded him before the crowd and chopped off his head. Where so many others had found their ambitions and abilities dragged in the dust behind the baying mob. The men of the media were kings now. But here of all places he knew that even kings could fall. Torn to pieces and hurled onto the rocks which lay below the crumbling cliff face. He needed a lifeline. And in a hurry. He glanced at his watch. Already he was late. ‘Downing Street,’ he prompted his driver impatiently. By the time Goodfellowe had parked his bike in the rack at the front of Speaker’s Court he was out of breath and the third toe on his left foot was developing a blister. It was almost seven o’clock, a series of votes lay ahead of him stretching into the night, and he knew he was in danger of being late. He couldn’t remember what they were voting about but there would be trouble if he didn’t make it to the division lobby in time, so he was trying to hurry. Even on a good day the Government’s majority stretched only to nine and there had been few good days recently. Two colleagues on the Government backbenches were recovering from heart attacks, another had had an attack of conscience after his constituency association failed to reselect him, while a fourth was under attack from the tabloids for multiple philandering. She hadn’t been seen in Westminster since the last issue of the Sunday People, hoping in vain that colleagues and correspondents would lose interest in her reported non-culinary uses of lo-fat banana yoghurt. It was at times like these that Whips lost their sense of humour. He wondered whether in another life Madame Tang had been a Whip. Or merely a cat castrator. He’d better hurry. Then the phone started warbling again. It was getting to be a dangerous distraction. He should switch it off. Would switch it off. Next time. ‘Goodfellowe,’ he panted. ‘Mr Goodfellowe MP. Help. Help. Help!’ The voice was thin, perceptibly stretched by tension. ‘I am arrested. This is Jya-Yu. You know, Zhu’s niece. In prison. Help me. Please!’ The phone was handed to someone else. ‘Detective Constable Ferrit here at Charing Cross. Is there any chance that I’m talking to Mr Thomas Goodfellowe MP?’ The policeman sounded deeply sceptical. When he’d offered the prisoner the one phone call, he hadn’t expected a Chinese girl whose anxiety had reduced her command of English to little more than gabble to suggest that she would phone a politician rather than a solicitor. She didn’t know any solicitors, she had struggled to explain. ‘What’s going on, constable?’ ‘Lady here’s been arrested. Had your number and says she wants your help. I can always call a duty solicitor if it’s a pain, sir. Do you know the lady?’ ‘Sort of. Her uncle’s herbal shop provides me with fresh tea. Gave her my number because I’m expecting a new supply to arrive. What’s the problem?’ ‘Soliciting and being in possession of a controlled substance, sir.’ ‘You’re joking.’ ‘And we might throw in a charge of resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer. Actual bodily harm unless his nose stops bleeding in five minutes.’ ‘She’s only – what – eighteen?’ ‘Old enough, sir. You coming or not?’ ‘Ple-e-e-ase Minister Goodfellowe.’ Jya-Yu’s fear was all too evident. The bells of Big Ben directly above him were already announcing the hour and the first vote. He’d miss it unless he started for the division lobby now, and his vote might make all the difference. Yet she was sobbing. He was wondering if he could find an excuse that might satisfy the Whips, rather like when he had failed to sign his last Inland Revenue cheque, but that hadn’t worked either. Perhaps if he hurried to the police station he might miss only the first couple of divisions, be back for the rest almost before anyone had noticed. Yet this was a running three-liner, a summons by the Whips which only death might excuse, and even then it had to be certified. There again, why should he bother with her? He scarcely knew her, no more than a passing smile and a request that she call when the tea came in. ‘They lock me up!’ she was wailing. He knew what it was like to be locked up. Arrested. To know the stench of fear and humiliation. That’s why he was riding a bloody bike rather than driving a car. You didn’t need a licence for a bike. He’d only been a little bit over the limit but it was during the pre-Christmas purge and whereas twenty years ago they might have made an exception for a Member of Parliament, nowadays they made examples of them. All over that Christmas his constituency had been plastered with the Government’s drink-drive posters – ‘Don’t Be An Idiot’, the posters had warned. ‘And Don’t Vote For One Next Time!’ his opponents had added in huge yellow graffiti across every single one. He had to go. ‘I’ll be there in fifteen.’ His arrival at Charing Cross police station in Agar Street turned out to be less than authoritative. ‘You’re an MP?’ the reception constable had asked dubiously. The intervening fifteen minutes between phone call and arrival had not been kind to Goodfellowe. A sudden spring shower had ambushed him as he passed Downing Street; as though the Chief Whip were using his occult powers to give him one last chance to change his mind and turn. He had arrived at the police station red in cheek, dripping slightly, with his suit crumpled and his trousers still tucked inside his socks. ‘You sure you’re an MP?’ the constable repeated. ‘Used to be a Minister. Home Office,’ Goodfellowe responded, but this only served to make his appearance all the more unconvincing. His suits, even when dry, seemed to suggest faded elegance, memories of better times and evidence of several dry cleanings too far. His age lay somewhere in the late forties, that point in a man’s life which is neither young nor yet old, when ambition’s flame has begun to flicker if not yet die, when many a man grows preoccupied with the stretching of his waistline rather than his intellect. But not Goodfellowe. The hair at his temples was beginning to show grey in a manner which could seem distinguished when not frizzing in the rain, although it normally looked as if he had just been roused from a nap on the sofa – unruly, a little battered, much like Goodfellowe himself. But nothing about him suggested either sleepiness or indolence. He was a man of enthusiasms, sometimes excessively so, with a mind so open to possibilities that it worked best only when it was almost too late. A mind that had not always commended itself to party managers who preferred discipline and routine. They compared him to a great tanker, very difficult to turn or manoeuvre once set on his course, often in bad weather refusing to answer the helm, and as he glanced at the station clock which showed twenty past and the first two votes missed, he knew there would be more rough sailing ahead. But it was in his eyes that the depths of Goodfellowe were revealed. They were dark, almost blue-black like the night sky. Sometimes they would sparkle as though filled with a thousand stars and captivate all who were allowed close enough to see, yet at other times they would darken as though great clouds were passing and threaten the most violent of storms. He had once, until four years ago, been part of the constellation himself, one of the brightest and most rapidly promoted politicians of his time. A junior Minister who, although he did not hide his ambition, had sufficient sense to wear it with a smile and was regarded by an increasing number of colleagues as good Cabinet material and possibly, one day, even more. But at that time he had had a wife and a son, as well as Sammy. There had also been a driving licence and a Government driver too – all the trappings of success which, piece by piece, had fallen away, leaving him in a rain-sodden suit with his trousers tucked inside his socks standing in Charing Cross nick. He reached into his pocket for his wallet. He didn’t have his House of Commons pass on him, couldn’t remember where he had left it, but his credit card had become one of his closest allies in his battle against misfortune, never leaving his side. ‘Thomas Goodfellowe MP’ it announced, and the constable at last seemed satisfied. ‘We have to be careful, you understand,’ he offered by way of apology, opening the heavily secured door that allowed Goodfellowe into the heart of the police station. ‘I understand all too well, Constable,’ he replied, bending down to release his trouser cuffs from captivity. He was led downstairs to the Charge Room, which resembled the ticket counter of a bus station, except that the boards behind the reception desk carried duty rosters and charge sheets instead of timetables. It seemed to be rush hour. ‘Sarge, I’ve got one for the Chinese girl,’ the constable announced. ‘You her solicitor?’ the custody sergeant enquired, continuing to give his attention to a large batch of forms in front of him. ‘A Member of Parliament.’ ‘Ah, you must be Mr Goodfellowe.’ The sergeant looked up. ‘She a constituent, sir?’ ‘No. A friend, I suppose.’ ‘Your … friend’ – the policeman tested the term cautiously – ‘is in a spot of real trouble, Mr Goodfellowe. Soliciting. Possession. Punching an officer. We’re all going to have to be rather careful about this, if you take my meaning.’ Goodfellowe took it to be a friendly warning. ‘We tried to get her to call a solicitor but she insisted it should be you. I can still call the duty solicitor, if you want. If you’re too busy. Got more important things to do.’ ‘Thank you, Sergeant. Might as well see her while I’m here, don’t you think?’ ‘Up to you. Entirely up to you,’ the sergeant pronounced, washing his hands of any further advice. Rush hour was well underway, the Charge Room was getting backed up and it was going to be a long night. ‘Are you going to charge her, Sergeant?’ ‘Depends. Haven’t got her side of the story yet, she’s having trouble explaining herself. And we’re running a check through Clubs & Vice and through the Immigration Service to see if they’ve a handle on Miss Pan … Chou-you. That her real name?’ ‘Zsha-yu,’ Goodfellowe pronounced phonetically. ‘I think so.’ ‘Know the young lady well, do you, sir?’ ‘Not really.’ ‘I see.’ ‘I doubt very much whether you do, Sergeant,’ Goodfellowe responded, more than aware of what was swirling through the policeman’s excessively stimulated mind. ‘I think perhaps I’d better see her now.’ All this time Jya-Yu had been sitting in a detention room. Less than ninety minutes beforehand she had been a carefree, bright-eyed eighteen-year-old looking forward to a night out with friends. Now she was rigid with terror, sitting on a plastic mattress on a concrete bunk in a cell whose painted brick walls were covered in crude graffiti and scratchings which seemed like the claw marks of animals. The room had been designed so that prisoners could do no harm to themselves, yet Jya-Yu, simply by sitting here, felt more harmed and in more pain than at any time in her short life. The scuffle, her arrest, the ride with head bowed in the back of a police wagon to a basement car park, with policemen and women shouting at her (or so it seemed), thrown amidst all the dregs that collected in a busy Charge Room. And then the strip search, the violation, to her the most profound humiliation of her life, almost as Madame Tang had described it to her, as though the Kuomintang army had marched right up Charing Cross Road and started to lay waste. When she was led from the cell and into an interview room to discover at last a familiar face, the emotions she had kept caged within at last escaped her control. She stood to attention, hands by her side, head bowed, and began to sob inconsolably. Instinctively Goodfellowe crossed to her and placed his arms defensively around her, trying to bury the tears in his embrace. The constable smirked. ‘Ah, could we be left alone to talk, Constable?’ Goodfellowe enquired when at last Jya-Yu had regained her composure. ‘’Fraid not, sir.’ ‘But I thought …’ ‘Not a privileged conversation, sir, not unless you’re a solicitor.’ The first battle lost. And so they had talked and Jya-Yu, calmer now and with better control of her English, had tried to explain, and the arresting constable, nose no longer weeping, had come in and recorded a formal interview during which he had displayed a plastic bag containing two twists of silver paper. ‘Are these yours, miss?’ the policeman had enquired, still slightly nasal. She had nodded. ‘For the record, the prisoner has indicated that the silver packets belong to her. And what is the off-white powder inside them?’ She looked at Goodfellowe, her eyes flushed with confusion and torment, then sat with her head held low and would say no more. ‘Miss Pan Jya-Yu, it seems to me probable that this powder is a controlled substance, cocaine I would guess. Have you got anything to say?’ The constable sounded a little bored and began to make patterns on the table top with the rings left by his plastic coffee cup. ‘OK. For the benefit of the record, the prisoner refuses to answer. And you do understand, don’t you, that your refusal to say anything can be used against you in court?’ ‘Yes. I do,’ she whispered. They were taken back to the Charge Room, now in a state of controlled bedlam, where an inspector appeared. They had run Jya-Yu’s name through their records but had found no sordid past, no vice conviction, she was not an illegal, her presence in the country was entirely in order. ‘And you have no witness for the soliciting charge,’ Goodfellowe intervened. ‘But we do have a suspicious substance, sir. And the constable’s bloody nose.’ ‘That was accident,’ Jya-Yu protested, but the inspector ignored her, continuing to address Goodfellowe. ‘I’m not going to charge the lady at the present time but we’ll release her on bail to return at a time when our lab analysis of the substance is completed. Probably in about six weeks’ time. When we know what it is, then we’ll know what to do.’ ‘And in the meantime?’ ‘If you’ll let me offer you a word of advice, I should concentrate on running the country, sir. Tears and trouble. That’s all a gentleman like you will get from becoming tied up in a case like this. People have such suspicious minds.’ Corsa was feeling out of sorts. He hated receptions, even in Downing Street. Three hundred people crushed into a couple of steaming drawing rooms where they sipped cheap wine – Spanish this month, Sainsbury’s had a special – and waited for one of the Prime Minister’s funny little speeches. Corsa was used to making dramatic entrances, demanding the attention of all present, not shuffling along in an anonymous line, like his father. In a crowd his lack of physical stature made him feel claustrophobic, insignificant. He hated cheap wine, held disdain for casual acquaintance and had no high regard even for the Prime Minister. How could one take a man seriously whose eyebrows resembled two ferrets locked in coitus? He turned to take out his frustrations on the Minister for Overseas Development, a man of giggles and girth who wore his suit as though beneath its immense folds it hid a chest of drawers with all the drawers open. ‘Bunny’ Burrowes was also notoriously Catholic and unmarried. And, this evening, he was a target that had moved out into the open. The Herald had recently launched a campaign exposing the high infant-mortality levels in Angola caused by an epidemic of flu believed to have been introduced by European nuns. As his features editor had pointed out to Corsa, the death rates in Angola were no higher than in Iraq or Mongolia but, as Corsa had in turn pointed out to the features editor, there was little public sympathy to be generated by Arabs or Orientals ‘and black babies have such enormous eyes. So appealing.’ Anyway, neither Iraq nor Mongolia had a Royal visit planned for three months’ time. So the Herald in traditional campaigning mood had promised to build them a hospital. Much fanfare, still more moral outrage, and all by Royal appointment. Great publicity. Sadly for the plans and promises, however, the Herald’s campaign had found its readers in a profound state of compassion fatigue. Both heart strings and purse strings remained steadfastly unplucked, and the Herald’s appeal was a quarter of a million short – money which Corsa had neither mood nor means to find from his own resources. So, privately and with great politeness, they had asked the Foreign Office whose officials, still more politely, had said no. Yet here, giggling in the middle of the Green Drawing Room, was the Minister in all his voluminous flesh. Corsa felt a challenge coming on. ‘My dear Minister, what a pleasure.’ Burrowes scowled at the interruption. Unlike some of his colleagues he did not welcome over-familiarity with the press, being neither photogenic nor particularly prudent in his private life. He replied with no more than a nod of his heavily jowled head and was about to pick up his interrupted conversation about costume with the country’s leading male ice skater when, with only perfunctory apologies, Corsa took his arm and led him off to a quieter corner. ‘Not your bloody hospital, Freddy,’ Burrowes started, objecting to the heavy hand upon his sleeve. ‘I’ve seen the papers. It won’t wash. We don’t have the money.’ ‘Of course you have the money, Bunny. It’s simply a matter of priorities. But of course I understand your difficulties.’ ‘Good,’ responded the Minister, his eyes dancing back to the skater and making to leave, but Corsa kept a firm grip on his sleeve. ‘I merely wanted to make sure that you had been fully briefed on the opportunities.’ ‘What opportunities?’ ‘The opportunity to get some richly deserved credit. For the Government. For the Foreign Office aid programme. And, when it comes down to it, for you.’ The Minister pulled distractedly at each of his pudgy fingers in turn as though checking that the press man hadn’t stolen any in the crush. ‘Think of the free publicity,’ Corsa continued. ‘The hospital building is all prefabricated. We could load it onto an RAF transport and fly it in together. You and me. Accompanied by a handirpicked selection of reporters and television cameramen, of course. Imagine the reception. The crowds on the runway. Laughing children, weeping doctors, dancing mothers, and as many effusive local dignitaries as their Mercedes can shuttle in. The lot. And you and the Cardinal being greeted like saviours – which is precisely what this hospital project is all about.’ ‘The Cardinal?’ enquired the Minister. ‘Yes. I’ve had a word with his office,’ Corsa lied impetuously. ‘They say in principle he’d be delighted to help. Thinks it’s an excellent idea. Sort of absolution for the nuns. We Catholic boys should stick together, Bunny.’ Burrowes’ fingers began dancing across the folds of his damp chin. Even on a good day he was no longer what he could regard as young, and his contemplation of indiscretions both past and proposed had begun to produce in him a growing attachment to his religious roots, and particularly to the understanding and forgiveness those roots might provide. Yes, if the Cardinal was considering giving his personal approval … ‘And the Herald would keep the campaign going. Reports on the children saved, the disasters averted and the good deeds done. Your good deeds, Bunny. Right through the summer.’ Burrowes’ jowls wobbled in growing anticipation. Public duty and personal piety all wrapped up in one endless photo opportunity, right through the summer – and the next reshuffle. The Minister’s eyes grew moist. ‘It’s only a drop in the ocean so far as your budget is concerned but it’s in a damned good cause. Your cause. An excellent cause, don’t you think?’ Corsa continued, and the Minister found himself nodding in agreement. He’d get stick from his officials when he went back to the office, but he could squeeze it out of the disaster fund and pray that Bangladesh wouldn’t disappear beneath flood water again this year. A gentlemen’s agreement forged for God’s work. After all, that was a Minister’s job, to decide. ‘For the greater good,’ he burbled enthusiastically. ‘And sod the civil servants.’ At last Corsa allowed the Minister to return to his ice skater. Two hundred and fifty thousand. Not a bad return on ten minutes’ work and a glass of Sainsbury’s Rioja. It was fine sport and the fool hadn’t even realized, had been so pathetically grateful. How he despised them, the politicians, the would-be rulers with their airs and arrogances, strutting around this tiny world of Westminster like peacocks with their flight feathers plucked. He found himself wandering away from the general crush, stepping around the White Drawing Room in search of more convivial distraction. He examined a Constable landscape of storm clouds and sodden fields, not one of the painter’s best. Corsa had better in his own boardroom, although in private he preferred more modern works, the sort of things in which it looked as though reality had been taken apart and put back in an entirely different order. Rather like his accounts. On a table by the window stood four china dolls, porcelain figures of former Prime Ministers – Gladstone, Wellington, Disraeli and Palmerston, giants of the Victorian age but all with private lives and peccadilloes which would in the modern era have brought them low long before their time. ‘Publish and be damned!’ Wellington had challenged his mistress when confronted with her all-too-explicit diaries. Nowadays she would, and he would too. Be damned, that is. Cut down to size quicker than a forest of mahogany. ‘The only good politician …?’ a voice beside him suggested. Corsa turned to find another guest, an elegant woman in her early forties, smiling at him mischievously. ‘I’m sure we all retain a considerable regard for them. In their proper place,’ he offered cautiously, unable to resist the conditional. He knew her, he thought, but couldn’t place her. ‘That proper place being swinging from a lamp-post by their testicles, according to some of your editorials.’ She held out her hand. ‘Diane Burston. I don’t think we’ve met.’ ‘We have, in a way,’ Corsa returned, at last recognizing her. ‘You’ve graced the business pages of my newspapers on many an occasion.’ Diane Burston was a phenomenon. A woman who had risen to the highest ranks of the oil industry on merit and on the basis of her extraordinary financial skills. It wasn’t enough any more simply to be a good oil man, not in an industry forced to spend so much of its effort trying to climb out of the holes which a previous generation of eager executives and ill-controlled prospectors had dug for it. Rusting oil platforms, misplaced oil terminals, sinking oil tankers, oceans of oil pollution; suddenly the oil companies had become about as popular as anthrax. And in the game of damage limitation a handsome feminine face coupled with an astute financial mind had proved to be powerful assets. ‘Grace is scarcely a word which springs to mind when I think of some of your coverage,’ she continued, still smiling but with lips which had taken on the suppleness of etched glass. The eyes were like diamond drilling bits. She seemed surrounded by an air of exceptional intensity and turbulence, a battlefield, not a territory to be entered by those of uncertain spirit. ‘Your City Editor on the Herald is one of the most prejudiced and poorly informed commentators I’ve ever encountered.’ ‘Surely an exaggeration.’ He was smiling, as he did habitually, with expensively burnished teeth and lips that were a fraction too thick. But the smile never reached his eyes. They remained restless, in constant search of advantage. Di Burston offered none. ‘What else can you expect from a man with his background?’ she continued. ‘You. mean the BBC?’ Corsa offered, curious as to where this was leading. ‘Before that. Before the BBC.’ Corsa’s puzzlement increased. He had no idea where his City Editor’s origins lay. The man was simply another of the phalanx of young, aggressive journalists brought in over the last three years to replace the older, perhaps more experienced but endlessly more expensive journalists he’d inherited from his father. ‘You’re telling me you didn’t know that until eight years ago he was a publicity director for Greenpeace?’ There was an edge of advantage in her voice. First blood to the girls. Corsa, unsure of his next line, turned to examine the view from the window. She was inspecting him, and under pressure he became uncomfortably aware of the genetic Corsa tendency for the waist to spread and the hair to retreat. Early stages, in his case, only a couple of pounds and a few strands, but enough to remind himself every time he looked in the mirror that there was so much more still to do, and so little time to do it. She came to join him, her voice dropping until it had reached a conspiratorial, almost seductive register. ‘You call yourself an entrepreneur, a man of free enterprise, yet you throw open your pages to every bunch of tree huggers who can plaster together a press release. Eco-warriors, New Age nonentities, the menopausal middle-class. Anyone who would rather crawl than drive, or choke on coal dust rather than live within a thousand miles of a nuclear power station. They shout, and you give them a front page. The bigger their lie, the better your coverage. It’s a war out there. Seems to me you’ve chosen the wrong side.’ She had drawn near to him now, in the lee of the heavy sash window, close enough that he could smell her. She was playing with him. He didn’t object. ‘The public has a right to hear both sides,’ he offered, grasping at a cliché. ‘And businesses like yours and mine have a right to make a living. Do you really think we can all survive by selling air cake and nut burgers?’ ‘So what are you suggesting should happen?’ ‘In my case, what I’ve already decided is going to happen. As from next month I’m pulling all my advertising from your newspapers.’ She allowed the news to sink in. ‘You know, Mr Corsa, I spend tens of millions of pounds every year on building my company’s image. And all I get for it is hate mail – thanks to you and your limp organs.’ ‘You’re taking this very personally,’ he replied, his manhood under attack. ‘But of course I am,’ she breathed softly. ‘Just as I took it personally when your City Editor attacked my pay and pension package, even though it’s still considerably less than yours. Touch of double standards, do you think?’ Corsa made a mental note to find a new City Editor. The present incumbent was proving all too tiresome. His staff were there to serve their proprietor and paymaster, not to provide an excuse for giving him a public thrashing. He stood in silence, gazing out from the first-floor window across the broad expanse of Horse Guards. The bell above the arch chimed the hour. ‘What do you think that would be worth?’ she enquired, indicating the great gravelled parade ground which was used once a year to Troop the Colour and for the remainder as a car park for civil servants. ‘Move all the bureaucrats and retired admirals out and sell it for development?’ ‘That’s outrageous.’ She shrugged. ‘Look at it another way. That’s about sixty million pounds.’ Slowly Corsa began to laugh, genuinely and almost with affection. He’d lost every single round of this contest with his elegant new opponent, and somehow he didn’t seem to mind. Something was stirring inside, the germ of an idea which unwittingly she had planted and which, although as yet dimly seen, might yet reshape his world. Or at least rebuild his cliff. ‘Ms Burston, you leave me breathless. And defenceless. I surrender! But before you put both me and the advertising budget to the sword, do you think we might discuss this further? Over dinner?’ ‘Are you after my body or my business?’ ‘Both if I can. Business, if I have to choose.’ ‘I didn’t think newspapers encouraged adultery amongst public figures.’ ‘One of the few advantages of my lonely job is that, in this dog-eat-dog world, there is a degree of solidarity enjoyed between newspaper proprietors which ensures that our private lives remain, by and large, just that. Private. A sort of mutual nonaggression pact.’ The diamond bits in her eyes had begun to sparkle. ‘I think we had better stick to business.’ ‘That, too, would be my pleasure.’ ‘At least for the moment …’ They had left the police station by the back entrance. Fewer staring eyes that way. And it brought them out by the ornate cast iron lamp-post, complete with Royal insignia and griffins, to which Goodfellowe had manacled his bike. The lamp-post was still there, directly beneath the busy windows of the police station, but the wheels of the bike were not and neither was the bell nor saddle. The basket had a hole in it the size of a boot. Goodfellowe picked up the remains, cursed, and morosely let them fall once more to the pavement. Yet again Jya-Yu burst into tears. ‘I’m so sorry. My fault.’ ‘If what you tell me is true, then it patently wasn’t your fault. Don’t worry. We’ll find a way.’ He laid a reassuring hand on her shoulder. ‘Anyway, where’s your uncle? Shouldn’t he have come?’ ‘No, no,’ she protested. ‘Uncle be busy in shop, on his own now.’ She lowered her eyes. ‘I do not want to cause trouble for Uncle Zhu.’ ‘What sort of trouble?’ She would only give a shake of her head. ‘Tell me, Jya-Yu, what was in those packets? What was the powder? The police will know soon enough. Was it cocaine?’ ‘Never. Not cocaine!’ ‘Then what?’ ‘Uncle say it was tiger bone.’ ‘You mean, an aphrodisiac?’ ‘A gentleman’s pick-me-up.’ ‘That’s a controlled substance, isn’t it? Was it tiger bone?’ She looked tormented. ‘I’m not sure.’ ‘If it wasn’t, you have no problem.’ She shook her head. ‘If it is not, and it is known that Uncle is selling tiger bone which is false, it will be even worse. Great loss of face, great loss of business.’ ‘You’re not serious. Tell me it’s not true.’ ‘But of course,’ she protested. ‘You see, tiger bone is ancient Chinese cure, helps open up gate of life in man. If it makes man feel he is better lover, then he is better lover. Like alcohol, but without the, you know, falling-down problem. You would like to try it sometime?’ Goodfellowe managed no more than what he hoped would sound a dignified and noncommittal grunt. ‘Simple, Minister Goodfellowe. With such problems, if tiger bone works in man’s mind, then it will work for body too.’ Her eyes turned to water once more. ‘Which is why I cannot allow it to be thought that Uncle Zhu does not sell good powder.’ ‘You’re trying to tell me that the powder may or may not be tiger bone. But even if it isn’t, you can’t admit it? Because of your uncle’s image?’ He ran his hand through his hair, ransacking it in frustration. ‘You are kind to help, Minister Goodfellowe. I am so sorry to bother you. Now I make sure you get only best tea. Fresh spring tip. From top of bush. No more mix. No more old dust.’ Her emotions were unravelling, she was blubbing now and struggling to show her gratitude. Awkwardly she stretched up to kiss his cheek. Goodfellowe’s emotions were equally unsettled. A dismembered bike and several missed votes. Seemed his tea supply had scarcely been Guandong Grade One, either. He would have been laden with considerably more apprehension had he known what was taking place inside the pub on the other side of the road. The Marquis of Granby was, in the finest traditions of the brewing trade, a watering hole, not dissimilar to the desert wells around which Arabs would tether their camels and retire to the shade in order to contemplate the hidden meanings of life. Since it was frequented by so many off-duty policemen, the Marquis was usually awash with hidden meanings which representatives of the national media were more than happy to divine. No need to put unscrupulous policemen on retainers to keep their press paymasters informed of who and what were passing through the hands of the Custody Sergeant; a few rounds at the bar of the Marquis were usually more than sufficient. Oscar Kutzman was one such desert dweller, a photographer whose duties were to find and photograph distinguished people in less than distinguished circumstances. The job required talent – a sharp eye, an excellent memory for faces, an exceptional lack of scruple, all of which Oscar had in abundance. He was also conscientious in paying for his tip-offs, one of which only last week had led him to the rear door of a Bloomsbury apartment block at precisely the moment a senior Catholic cleric emerged in the embrace of his four-year-old son. ‘Oscar, you find my stories that boring?’ his guest enquired, aware that Kutzman’s attentions had wandered elsewhere. ‘A thousand apologies, my dear Inspector,’ the photographer responded, fumbling in his bag. ‘You recognize that fellow with the Chinese girl?’ ‘Beneath the lamp-post? Never seen him before.’ ‘No matter, I’ve just remembered. I covered his drink-driving case a few months ago at Horseferry Magistrates.’ ‘Seems safe enough now, with a bike. Or what’s left of it.’ ‘But with a young girl like that? I fancy not – Oh, that’s great!’ he enthused, grabbing his Nikon and squeezing off several frames as he studied Jya-Yu reaching up to embrace Goodfellowe. Bound to be a bit grainy in the fading evening light, but with a little help from the darkroom and a judicious choice of neg, it could probably be made to look as though she was kissing him full on the lips. An exaggeration, of course, but scarcely a deception, since Oscar had few illusions as to what this public show of affection might mean in a private context. Not a story, not yet, maybe never, but he’d been around long enough to believe in rainy days when, without warning, the great compost heap of life bursts into flower and onto the front page. This was definitely one for the compost heap. As the couple disappeared down the street, he turned to his colleague and smiled. ‘You know, we may just have paid for your next brandy, Inspector.’ For the second time that evening, Goodfellowe had brushed against the world of Freddy Corsa. TWO (#) Corsa kept the scribe waiting, wanting from the start to establish the line of authority. Not that there was ever going to be any doubt on the point, but the gesture nevertheless had to be made. Like genuflecting in a church. The lift by which the journalist had ascended was glass-fronted, in keeping with the contemporary internal design of the converted warehouse, allowing sight of the first three floors of the building in which were housed the offices of the Granite Foundation, the charitable trust created by Papa and, as in all such matters, transformed by his son. The Foundation owned the building and leased the top two penthouse floors to Corsa at a rent so nominal that it would undoubtedly have been regarded as an abuse had the details been known by the Charity Commission, which they weren’t. But, Corsa argued, he gave the Foundation the benefit of his financial acumen and public relations expertise which were of inestimable value. Anyway, all the trustees were placemen, hand-picked ‘for their proven commitment to good causes,’ as Corsa put it, although the only cause most of them had served had been Corsa himself. Still, it ensured that board meetings ran efficiently and without acrimony. The penthouse, which was used by Corsa as his London home and for which travellers in the lift required a computer access code, was a stunning modernist creation in steel and glass, shod with a suitable acreage of blond wood. It offered breath-snatching views along the river to where the new headquarters of Granite Newspapers nestled in the shadow of Canary Wharf, while its internal privacy and climate were secured by an adept use of computer-controlled sailcloth shades which surrounded the atrium on three sides. As much as Corsa insisted on being regarded as part of the press establishment, in private his tastes were eclectic, nonconformist, some might say even inconsistent. But never his purpose. The journalist, when he was ushered onto the terracotta terrace overlooking the river, found Corsa surrounded by fig trees and seated on a planter’s chair, talking by telephone with his son’s headmaster. ‘Headmaster, Freddy Junior tells me you’re looking to replace your cricket pavilion. I’d like to help. The Granite Foundation is very keen on worthwhile educational projects. I’m sure they would want to look at it very closely.’ He waved for the journalist to take a seat. Tea was already set out on the table beside them. He indicated that the journalist should pour. ‘One point, Headmaster. If they are going to provide the bulk of the funds, I’m sure they would like to think that their name might find its way onto the pavilion. Not quite as important as the Sainsbury Wing at the National Gallery, perhaps, but the principle’s the same.’ On the river below a pleasure boat commandeered for a school outing to Greenwich sounded its klaxon and the children waved energetically. Corsa waved back. ‘Glad you agree. But, now you raise the subject, I’m not sure that something like the Granite Pavilion has quite the right personal touch. Bit too … solid for Sussex, wouldn’t you say? Maybe we’d better just call it the Corsa Pavilion.’ He winked at his guest, allowing him in on the game. ‘But there is one other point we need to discuss, if the subject is cricket. To be blunt, I can’t see how the school can have a Corsa Cricket Pavilion if it doesn’t have a Corsa in the cricket team.’ A silence fell as the headmaster was allowed to ponder the point. ‘Does it matter if his average was only eight last year?’ Corsa continued. ‘Those runs are worth five thousand pounds apiece if you get your new pavilion. It could be up in time for the annual game with Eton. So maybe it will cost you the match for the next two years, but it’ll save the team.’ He paused, then a glint of satisfaction crossed Corsa’s well-tanned face. ‘I felt sure you would feel that way about it, Headmaster. Pleasure talking to you.’ He replaced the phone and turned to his guest. ‘Don’t think I’m a soft touch – it’s not as painful as it sounds. Someone is sure to argue that as generous as my offer is, others should be asked to help raise some of the money. To foster team spirit. So I’ll end up offering matching sums, pound for pound. Get away with twenty grand, less than two years’ school fees.’ He declined to remind the visitor that in any event the money would not be coming from his own pocket but from the Foundation. ‘So, Mr Gooley, you want to become the Herald’s new City Editor.’ The young man slurped his tea in surprise. ‘I hadn’t realized there was a vacancy.’ ‘There isn’t. Not yet at least. But imagine for a moment that there were. Why should you replace him?’ Gooley, put off-balance, wrestled awkwardly with his thoughts. ‘Why should it be you?’ Corsa repeated. ‘Or is that too difficult a question?’ ‘It’s an unfair question.’ ‘Yes, but I’m sure you’ll manage.’ Gooley returned his cup to the table, clearing the decks. He was a young man whose playing field of emotions stretched between enterprise and ambition, and the ground in between was exceptionally well trodden. He was not the sort of man to pass by an opportunity without launching himself at it with both kneecaps. It won him few friends, although the Herald’s City Editor might have counted himself amongst them, yet Gooley was still of an age where friends were little more than an audience. ‘OK. I’m a good journalist. I know the City, the institutions, how to gut a balance sheet.’ ‘So do a hundred others.’ ‘But far more important, I know men. City men. What drives them.’ ‘Which is?’ ‘Hunger.’ ‘For fame?’ ‘No, not in the City. Fame is for the gentlemen farther up the river at Westminster. That’s why they die poor and disappointed and in their own beds. In the City the hunger is for wealth. Money. Acquisition. And why so many of them die in other people’s beds. They’re warmer.’ Corsa was amused. ‘You sound as if you’ve made quite a study of this. Something of an academic, are you?’ It was the journalist’s turn to show amusement. ‘With my accent? You think I got that at university? No, Mr Corsa, I’m Oldham, not Oxford. Rugby league and Tandoori takeaway, that’s me, and I’ll waste your money on the finest claret only if it gets me a story. There’s nothing academic about me. I didn’t need books to understand the way the City men think. All I needed was a mirror.’ ‘So we’re all avaricious, are we?’ ‘Single-minded. Know what we want.’ ‘And what do you want?’ Gooley looked carefully around the penthouse. His eyes were not adjusted to appreciate the refinement, the glow of Lalique, the elegant discomfort of the Mackintosh chairs. He was simply lost in the size of it all. ‘I’ll bet you’ve got a hundred silk ties in your wardrobe.’ ‘A hundred and fifty.’ Corsa exaggerated, but the younger man’s eyes remained direct, disarmingly uncomplicated. ‘I want this, or something like this,’ he breathed. ‘I want to be part of it all. That’s why I want the opportunity to be your City Editor.’ Corsa’s appreciation of the man grew. ‘But along with the opportunities also go responsibilities. To me. I’m very much a hands-on proprietor. The City is my world, too, and I don’t like being taken by surprise.’ ‘Fair enough.’ ‘I’m talking a two-way relationship. I tell you what I know; you return the confidence. I want to feel it’s a team effort.’ Corsa was an excellent player of this particular game, flattering his journalists and editors into subservience, leaving their professional integrity intact while ensuring they did precisely what he intended. ‘It’s not that I want any inside information, you understand, but I need to know you’ve got your finger on the pulse. That the stories you print are well founded and not simply dreamed up over lunch. Understood?’ ‘Sharing inside information with you would be highly unethical’ – Gooley paused for no more than the beating of a wing – ‘if you were to use it. I feel sure our relationship would be based on a deep and mutual trust. If I were your City Editor.’ ‘Good. Very good.’ Corsa mused, then made up his mind. The present incumbent could go chew nut buns. ‘Very well, Jim, in the spirit of mutual trust let me give you something. News which you will be the first to hear. Not for printing yet, but I want you to think about it. You know that the Granite Group is the best damn company in the newspaper field, but the others are always snapping at us. And when these new European regulations come in there’s going to be one hell of a dog fight. So we are going to be as lean and as fit and as mean as possible.’ Corsa made chopping motions with his hand. Gooley nodded. ‘It means that our friend the current City Editor isn’t going to be the only one asked to fall upon his pen. I’ll be announcing more economies, more streamlining.’ ‘You mean more sackings at mill.’ The journalist leaned forward in his seat, alert. ‘How many?’ Corsa hesitated. ‘Suddenly I feel as though I’m being interrogated.’ ‘You are. That’s my job. How many?’ ‘Another five per cent.’ Gooley whistled gently. Another five per cent on top of the corporate ransacking Corsa had already undertaken … He began to shift uncomfortably as though discovering he was squatting on a distress flare, and straightened his tie defensively. Then he drew a deep breath and returned Corsa’s stare. ‘That’s great news. The Granite Group getting itself ready for the challenges of the new millennium. Committed to driving through reform. Focused strategy. Shareholder values …’ ‘You are going to do … very well, Jim,’ Corsa enthused, but the eyes were still sharp, restless. ‘You realize, of course, that some of the competition will undoubtedly try to twist the news to make it sound like a measure of desperation. Cutbacks caused by overexpansion, imposed by bankers, that sort of unimaginative crap.’ ‘Which is why we need to get in there first, set the pace, get people thinking straight. Not have some jaundiced hack from The Times getting it all wrong and queering the pitch.’ ‘Very prescient. There’s a deal riding on this.’ ‘How much of a deal?’ Corsa knew he had found the right man. ‘A twenty thousand bonus if after the announcement the shares go up rather than down.’ ‘Does that mean I’ve got the job?’ ‘One final question. You’re not a vegetarian by any sad chance?’ ‘Surely it doesn’t all come down to money?’ The question seemed almost to startle the older woman, causing her to pause on her tour of inspection in order to give the matter a considered response. ‘It’s not just the money, Mrs Ashburton, it’s the principle of the thing. What sort of father puts his daughter in that sort of position? Especially a father who’s supposed to set an example.’ ‘I feel Sam should be our main concern.’ Miss Flora Rennie, headmistress and custodian of values both moral and material at the Werringham School for Girls, resumed her walk around Top Field with Jenny Ashburton, her arts and crafts teacher. Mrs Ashburton had just come off the hockey field and had a perceptible dampness of the brow. Typical, Miss Rennie thought. Well intentioned but commits just a little too far. A flawed sense of perspective. ‘My concerns have to be wider than one individual girl. There are others to be considered. As headmistress I am responsible for making sure that the buildings are refurbished and the equipment replaced – and that I’m able to honour your salary cheques. I can’t do that if Mr Goodfellowe doesn’t honour his cheques.’ ‘I hadn’t realized.’ ‘This is the fourth term in a row that his term fees have been late,’ the headmistress added in a confidential tone frequently adopted in the drawing rooms of her native Edinburgh. ‘Last term’s fees are still outstanding, let alone this. Goodness knows what he does with his money. And Samantha can be so disruptive. So badly dressed.’ ‘Do you know what she does, Headmistress? While all the other girls are buying magazines and CDs and new clothes? Sam buys her clothes at The Discount Store, then comes back and cuts out the labels in secret. So no one will know. And in the holidays while most of the other girls dash off to the ski slopes or a sandy beach, she takes a job waiting on table in a local pizzeria.’ It had begun to rain, a gentle drizzle which was excellent for youthful English character but not for greying hair. The headmistress sought shelter beneath the branches of a magnificently gnarled oak. ‘You seem to know a great deal about the girl.’ ‘She’s the most talented artist we have in the school. She uses her art to express herself in a way she can’t elsewhere. An emotional outlet. I think it’s a form of therapy, for all her other problems.’ ‘I can’t have her problems affecting the other girls. Or her father’s problems, come to that. Do they get on – Samantha and her father?’ ‘I think it’s difficult. He’s away so much of the time. And no mother …’ ‘Yes, I suppose we should have known what we were letting ourselves in for when she arrived.’ She frowned in the direction of a group of girls who chirruped ‘Good afternoon, Headmistress,’ and ran off giggling. ‘Sam’s very talented,’ Mrs Ashburton insisted, trying to steer the conversation onto more positive grounds. ‘And also very well intentioned. I know she gets into scrapes with some of the other girls, but that’s no more than frustration. Look at her other side. The charity fashion show, for example. It was her idea and she’s doing most of the organization. Beneath those dark eyes there’s a huge heart.’ ‘It’s those dark eyes that will get her into trouble, mark my words. I get reports of the sort of boys she sees in her town time.’ Miss Rennie pulled her cardigan defensively about her bosom. ‘We are responsible for bringing our young ladies into contact with the finer values in life, not the sort of boys whose concept of culture is to spend their evenings bragging through their beer about under-age conquests.’ Her voice carried the hint of November wind blowing through the girders of the Forth Bridge. ‘She’s sixteen,’ the arts mistress responded in mitigation. ‘Anyway, I think she’s very much her own woman. Not easily led.’ Too committed, Miss Rennie reflected once more upon her colleague. A pity. Well intentioned, a gifted teacher. But too committed. It didn’t do, not with young girls, who required above all a tight rein. The headmistress sighed; she had already spent more than enough of her day worrying about one problem child, she had other responsibilities to attend to. The hot-water system had broken down yet again; it might require replacing, at whatever cost. ‘The fees must be paid,’ the headmistress responded, ‘I owe it to the other girls. Otherwise – well, perhaps Mr Goodfellowe’s neglect will relieve us of any further responsibility in this matter.’ And with that she strode purposefully in the direction of the boiler room. Late-night votes. Endless hours of tedium during which the parliamentary bars remained open while parliamentary minds grew ever more fixedly shut. Get through the business, don’t delay, don’t digress. Just march and vote. Then, at last, it was over and the exhausted representatives of the people could be released into the custody of the community. Goodfellowe, without wheels, had been forced to join the queue of numbed men and women who waited for taxis, and it was well after one before he clambered up the narrow stone stairs to reach his studio flat overlooking Gerrard Street. The place was pleasant enough, as small flats go, nestling in the eaves of the old Regency house with a mezzanine platform for his bed and a pine-clad ceiling that stretched up into the loft space. Once, a lifetime ago, he had lived in Holland Park. In those days he’d been able to afford a little style and a lot of stucco; now all he had was his parliamentary allowance for second homes which had to cover everything: rent, heating, taxes, insurance, the lot. Not that the heating bills were heavy, not with the meat kitchen on the floor below, where they hung the char-sui and duck on long rows of curing racks, forcing the warmth and their sweet-sour aroma upwards. It would make summer a struggle. But the location was convenient and he needed the distraction of something different, somewhere that bustled well into the night and helped fill all those sleepless hours. Chinatown never slept, not until dawn. They had regarded him with some suspicion when he moved in, the gweilo who had come to intrude upon the different families and clans that made up the Chinese community, but he’d made a point in his first week of going to see Madame Tang at her coffee shop and introducing himself, and slowly the word had got round. Minister Goodfellowe, a man who moved in circles of power, a man of contacts, a neighbour who might one day be useful. The Chinese understood that. They insisted on giving him a title and he had never been able to convince them that he was no longer a public figure of any eminence although, in truth, he hadn’t tried too hard. It still hurt. He had just kicked off his shoes and begun brewing a pot of light green tea when there came a persistent buzzing from the intercom. ‘Minister Goodfellowe! Minister Goodfellowe!’ He was tired like a lashed horse but almost welcomed the intrusion, his emotions still restless, his bed as always cold. The buzzer sounded again. He looked around for his shoes then decided he couldn’t be bothered, relishing the cool stone stairs as he padded down two flights in his socks. He opened the tall door to find Jya-Yu and Uncle Zhu standing on the step, silhouetted against the green neon of the Jade Palace across the street. Uncle Zhu was wearing a suit, carefully buttoned, and his hair was slicked down against his scalp. Jya-Yu was smiling nervously. ‘Sorry, very late. We wait until we see your light.’ ‘Waiting all night? What for? Not more trouble?’ he asked, exhaustion leaving his words sharp with accusation. Immediately he felt a louse as he noticed she was holding a plate on which were six assorted Chinese honey buns. ‘Cakes from cousin’s bakery. For you, Minister Goodfellowe. For thanks.’ She held the plate forward. A noise whose origins lay somewhere deep within Uncle Zhu’s throat began. To Goodfellowe it was utterly incomprehensible but the Chinaman was also holding something, offering it up. Goodfellowe found himself being presented with a construction of chrome and cables and rubber which, on inspection, transformed itself into a lightweight collapsible bike. Uncle Zhu’s head was bobbing effusively. ‘Also for thanks. Minister Goodfellowe,’ Jya-Yu chirped. ‘This is … so unexpected. Most kind,’ Goodfellowe responded, his tired judgement juggling with the implications. He was growing accustomed to the mercantile Chinese mind. ‘But how much will this cost?’ ‘No cost. For thanks. To replace old one.’ The bike was surprisingly lightweight, he could hold it in one hand. ‘It would be very useful,’ he conceded, ‘but I can’t accept something so valuable. It could get me into trouble.’ He tried to offer back the bike, but Uncle Zhu refused and began an animated exchange with his niece. ‘Uncle Zhu says he get bike in payment from poor customer. Uncle Zhu not ride bike. You take it, no problem.’ ‘I think I would like such a bike,’ Goodfellowe responded, turning the neatly folded package over in appreciation, ‘but I couldn’t accept it as a gift.’ He took a deep breath. ‘How much does your uncle think it’s worth.’ He dug into his pocket and came out clutching a solitary twenty-pound note. Uncle Zhu’s brow darkened. Goodfellowe realized he had committed a mortal offence by offering him money. ‘You must understand,’ he stammered, ‘a politician can get into great trouble for accepting gifts. People have such suspicious minds. Dammit, they’ll even do away with Christmas next.’ He looked wistfully at the machine. It would be – would have been – the perfect answer, yet it seemed he must lose the wheels just as he had caused Uncle Zhu to lose face. Suddenly Jya-Yu brightened. ‘Better way,’ she exclaimed. ‘You not take the bike, Minister Goodfellowe. You borrow it instead. Long term. And if Uncle Zhu ever need it, he take it back.’ Her face lit in mischief. ‘But you understand, his legs very short. I don’t think he can reach pedals. So you take care of it until Uncle Zhu’s legs grow.’ They both laughed, while the Chinaman stood immobile and uncomprehending. Goodfellowe, his objections overwhelmed by her advice and perhaps just a hint of avarice, gave what he hoped was a dignified bow and accepted the bicycle and the plate. Zhu smiled in relief and immediately turned away, Jya-Yu scurrying after him. ‘Just as long as it didn’t fall off the back of a lorry,’ Goodfellowe admonished as they retreated. ‘Oh, no, Minister Goodfellowe. It not even touch the ground. Look, no dents.’ And they were gone, leaving Goodfellowe clutching six sticky buns and a collapsible bike. ‘You look like a train-spotter.’ Mickey Ross, Goodfellowe’s secretary at the House of Commons, was nothing if not direct. She was also mid-twenties, vivacious, Jewish, formidably competent and possessor of a biting wit delivered with a lingering trace of Estuary English which marked her out as being not quite like the rest. On this occasion no one could argue that she was being less than objective. She had walked in to find Goodfellowe standing in his parliamentary office, his trousers still confined within bicycle clips, his shoes hurled to the far side of the room and a raw toe poking through a new hole in his sock. ‘New shoes. A waste of money,’ he muttered. ‘The old ones were practically walking on their own,’ she scolded. ‘Anyway,’ he riposted, ‘aren’t you wearing the same clothes as yesterday? Didn’t you get home last night?’ ‘I got waylaid,’ she mumbled, losing herself within the pile of morning post she was carrying. ‘With Justin?’ ‘No. Not with Justin,’ she replied, sounding as if her fiancé’s name had suddenly become a complicated foreign language. ‘Mickey,’ he lectured, ‘I thought you said you have principles.’ It was a mistake, he should have known better. She only knew one means of defence, which was onslaught. ‘I do have my principles and I had my principles last night, too. It’s just that I lost them.’ ‘Where?’ She pouted. ‘In the hotel lift on the way up to his room. I left them in a bag. A very small bag. Don’t worry. I found them again this morning on the way down.’ And with that she dumped the mountain of morning mail on his desk. It overflowed like an exploding volcano onto the floor, and he bent down to retrieve it with a groan. ‘And Beryl has just called,’ she added, with bite. ‘The reception on Friday week starts at seven prompt and I’m to remind you once more that it’s one of the biggest fund-raising bashes of the year.’ His groans grew more passionate. Beryl Hailstone was the chairmonster of his local party in Marsh wood. A woman of similar age to Goodfellowe, she had once made a pass at him, had been rejected in instinctive and unthinking horror, and had never forgiven. It seemed unlikely that this was to be Goodfellowe’s day, for on top of the pile of correspondence he had retrieved from the floor was a letter from his bank manager. The letters from his bank were getting shorter and more peremptory in the months since the old manager had been forced to make way for a new, younger model. The personal touch and understanding had gone, and in its place Goodfellowe had found only codes of financial conduct set by computer and implemented by automatons who sounded on the telephone as though they should be selling fruit from a barrow in Brewer Street. ‘Sorry,’ Mickey offered, her concern genuine. She was always the first to know. She was the one who sorted out the rental for the fax machine and computer, booked his train tickets, picked up his dry cleaning, took care of so many corners of his private life and knew often before he did when the autumn of his accounting had turned to harshest winter. Like now. He shivered. ‘Do you find you can never sleep?’ ‘Sadly not. Men simply don’t have the stamina.’ She paused, noticing the shadows of exhaustion beneath his eyes. ‘But something’s troubling you, Tom.’ ‘I had another set-to with Sammy.’ His tone was quiet, stripped of all pretension. ‘What was it this time?’ ‘The usual. She wanted money for some charitable fashion show she’s putting on at school. I said something … well, she caught me at the wrong moment, I suppose. So she stormed off without any money, I was left without any invitation and I don’t even know when I’m going to see her again. My own daughter. Added to that I got a bollocking last night from the Chief Whip for missing several votes. He was particularly foul. I think I’ve decided I hate the entire bloody world. Or is it simply that they hate me?’ With a sense of bitter purpose he drew back his desk drawer. Reaching within, his fingers closed around a feather-flighted dart. He measured the weight in his hand, smoothing its feathers, stroking it as though like a weapon of mercy it might relieve him of all his cares. Then he hurled it in the direction of a notice board on the opposite wall on which was hung a collage of images already peppered with holes. A photograph of Beryl Hailstone. And one of the Chief Whip. The letter of introduction from his new bank manager. His Liberal opponent’s manifesto from the last election. A photocopy of an uncomplimentary piece by a Guardian sketchwriter. And other pieces. The bill for his final car service just before he sold it. A final demand. The label from a bad bottle of Australian Shiraz which had promised undertones of blackcurrant but instead had suggested beetles. Items from his life brought together by only one strand of logic, the fact that he loathed them. The dart missed completely and stuck fast in the panelling above. He’d failed again. ‘Bugger it. I can’t even be miserable any more.’ Mickey began to laugh, playing with his self-pity, challenging him to turn his frustration on her, to find an outlet and let it pass. Clouds of anger flooded across his eyes, warning of the approaching storm. ‘You’re a witch.’ ‘You’re right. And I shall probably burn. But in the meantime,’ she said, sitting primly on the chair in front of his desk and taking out her notepad, ‘let’s see if we can’t cast a spell on a few others. Like the bank manager,’ she announced, ticking him off a list. ‘He’s young, bound to be pathetically impressionable. Invite him to lunch on the Terrace. For the price of a plate of subsidized sausage and a half-decent bottle of wine you’ll be able to tie up your overdraft for months. You can invite me too. I’ll be sweet to him, and you know I’m irresistible.’ ‘You are incorrigible.’ He meant it as an ill-tempered accusation. ‘How do you have the nerve to slink out of hotels looking guilty?’ ‘I don’t. What’s the point in slinking out looking guilty when you can stride out and let everyone know you’ve had a good time?’ Ignoring his scowl, she returned to her list. ‘Darling Beryl will be quite content if you’re on time and wearing trousers and are nice to the right guests. I’ll type you out a list.’ ‘If God is merciful I shall die first.’ ‘So long as you’re wearing trousers, that’s fine.’ She put the notepad aside. ‘Then there’s Sam.’ He sucked in a lungful of air and released it, his body shaking, as if he were trying to expel all the twisted emotion within and start afresh. ‘I’m a father, a replacement mother, a social worker to seventy thousand constituents and common bankrupt, all at the same time. No wonder I make such a mess of everything.’ ‘You’re not bankrupt yet.’ She was determined not to give his self-pity office space. ‘And none of it is Sam’s fault.’ ‘You think I don’t know that?’ ‘Of course you do. But does she?’ ‘I take the point. I hadn’t realized you threw in your services as an agony aunt, too.’ ‘I’m Jewish and I’m still breathing. What do you expect?’ ‘I long ago learned to stop expecting anything,’ he said, meaning it. ‘Look, you’re supposed to be the grown-up one. So you haven’t got an invitation to the fashion show. You think she’s going to issue one in gold-block lettering and send a chauffeur-driven car? Go. Surprise her. If you can’t find the right words, at least show her that she’s more important than your bank manager or bloody Beryl or any number of your complaining constituents. Just be there for her.’ A chink of light appeared through the storm clouds. ‘OK,’ he nodded. ‘Put it in the diary, will you.’ ‘I already have.’ ‘For pity’s sake, won’t you let me win one round?’ ‘For your sake, not if I can help it.’ He stood up abruptly. ‘That’s it. I’ve had enough. I’m going to leave you to handle all the post today on your own. I’m going off to broaden my mind.’ ‘Where, in case Downing Street or the Vatican should ask?’ ‘You can tell them I’m going for a therapeutic Chinese massage. With one of Jya-Yu’s prolific tribe of cousins, Dr Lin. She’s set me up with some free sessions.’ ‘This isn’t something menopausal, is it?’ ‘If it is,’ he said, searching for his shoes, ‘I intend to enjoy it.’ He was halfway through the door when he turned with an after-thought. ‘Tell me, what would you do if you discovered that Justin had – how can I put it delicately? – spent the night in a hotel room?’ She stretched out a leg, casually examining her tights, as though deeply unconcerned. ‘I’d have him for sausage stuffing, little bits and all.’ ‘Do I detect the odious whiff of double standards?’ ‘Not a bit. A man doesn’t get filleted for what he’s done, but for getting caught. I’d remember that, if I were you, while you’re having your Chinese massage.’ Corsa’s relationship with women benefited from two principal advantages – three, if one remembered his ability as a press proprietor to keep the dogs at bay. The first was his sense of physical control – the green-black eyes, the hand movements, the careful tailoring, even the deliberate way he walked, not hurrying as some shorter men might. Others waited for him. His second advantage was a wife who had known even before they had married that she would have to share him, and not solely with the Granite. But besides the Granite, she comforted herself, there could be no other mistress of importance. And there never had been. Sex for Corsa was simply another aspect of power, to be exercised and indulged over as broad a landscape as possible, particularly with wives of important men, the sort of St James’s club men who could neither hide their disdain nor satisfy their brides. An empire of English cuckolds, as outdated as the ugly oil paintings that hung in their drawing rooms. The saving grace in Corsa as far as most women were concerned was that they knew exactly what they were going to get – a physical intensity which he would lavish on them in the most elegant of surroundings, for a while, so long as business did not intervene. ‘A hand on my chest and an eye on his watch,’ as one of his lady acquaintances had remarked, but not in complaint. The eyes hovered restlessly, trembling, like the tip of a hawk’s wing, but the smile at the corner of his mouth was constant and unwavering. So was the passion. Irresistible, for some. Then, with an insouciant wave of farewell, it would be over. Diane Burston, however, was a different matter. Since he had met her at Downing Street his mind had been tossing on an ocean. Every wave lifted his spirits, allowing him a tantalizing glimpse of what might be the way ahead, a way to survive. Then he would be cast down, the vision dashed, and he would be surrounded by hideous, violent seas that threatened to overwhelm him and smash him on the rocks. The bankers had been more difficult than he’d expected, solicitous as ever but posing more questions and requesting more paper, which on this occasion it seemed they were intent on reading. They had begun to feel the pressure, too, and like all bankers were keen on passing that burden onwards. He’d found himself struggling, even at one stage leaning in argument on their long relationship and friendship. That’s when he knew he was in deep water, for friendship didn’t travel far down Lombard Street. And he had found his thoughts straying all the more frequently to the oil executive. Not to her body, as delightfully preserved and presented as it was, but to who she was, and what she was. As the seas grew steadily rougher they threw him higher still and for fleeting moments he was finding a clearer sight of salvation, and such was Corsa’s natural self-confidence that only rarely did he allow himself to think that he might not reach it, however distant and difficult the goal might seem. Yet he knew it would not be possible without Diane Burston, and others like her. He’d arranged supper at Le Caprice, and Mayfair at that time of night was choked. He was driving himself – the chauffeur already knew more than enough without needing to know where Corsa might be spending the night – and he’d been cruising for ten minutes. He’d found not a single free parking space around the streets and already two clamping teams were patrolling, falling like flies upon a feast. The NCP right next to the restaurant had space but parting with money was tantamount to admitting defeat. Parking in London was war, and Corsa refused simply to quit the battlefield. Maybe it was meanness, perhaps it was the growing tension or the meeting with the bankers that reminded him that every penny might yet count – he put it down to his Neapolitan instinct, which abhorred being told what he could or could not do, and drove round one last time. He’d passed the ancient mini-Honda three times already. A bright yellow anti-nuclear sticker shone out from the back window, and there was a sign warning of babies on board. It was also so outrageously parked that it took up space which could have accommodated two large saloons. Selfish bitch. And it was getting late. Time to put up or push off. Fa fan culo. This time he did not pass by, but eased his car up against the rear bumper of the Honda until he felt the gentlest of rocking motions to indicate they were in contact. Several tons touching tin. Then he gave it a little more gas, scarcely more than a kiss of encouragement. He was surprised how easily the Honda shifted, almost four feet. It bounced along the kerb, scraping the wheel trim, but a woman driver would scarcely notice the difference. And space had been created, he was in. A minor victory. And an omen, he hoped. The restaurant was crowded – tonight’s highlights were a celebrating playwright, the moment’s slickest fashion photographer, a leading libel lawyer whose hennaed hair was betrayed beneath the overhead lights. They all paused as Diane Burston walked in, men and women alike, wondering who she was meeting, where she bought her clothes, envying the maître d’ as she let her coat slip from her shoulders and into his hands. She bore that quality in a woman which goes beyond beauty and suggests control, a reversal of the primeval rule that men hunted and women waited helpless within the cave for the hunter’s return, the type of woman for whom a man’s first reaction is a buckling at the knees rather than any stirring of loins. ‘Good evening, Mr Corsa. Hope I haven’t kept you waiting.’ Which she had, deliberately. He didn’t mind, not with the eyes of every man in the restaurant upon him. They busied themselves with the functions of ordering. She cast her eyes over the menu for no more than a few seconds but knew precisely what she wanted. He had planned for champagne but everything about her suggested this was a woman of substance rather than froth; he ordered a vintage Montrachet. ‘I was intrigued by your invitation, Mr Corsa …’ ‘Freddy. Please. And I wanted first and foremost to apologize. I’ve read again some of the coverage the Herald has given you. I didn’t care for it. I’m sorry.’ ‘A letter of regret would have been sufficient.’ ‘No it wouldn’t. I mean what I say. The Herald was wrong.’ ‘That’s kind of you to say so. Sadly, of course, the damage has already been done.’ The waiter had finished laying out fresh cutlery, fish for her, côte de boeuf for him. Corsa picked up the steak knife, placing his thumb to the blade in the half-light as though checking its capacity to do damage. ‘I’ve got rid of the City Editor.’ ‘Goodness,’ she replied, ‘what you men will do in pursuit of an advertising contract.’ ‘Oh, no. Don’t misunderstand. This has nothing to do with your cancelled advertising. I’m in pursuit of something much bigger. And to avoid any confusion, as much as I appreciate your coming here this evening in a manner which is more than capable of starting a Cabinet crisis, I am not talking about trying to get into your bed.’ ‘Then I have failed,’ she mocked. ‘When I talk business with men who don’t want to get into my bed I find I’ve lost half my advantage. Men are such little boys at heart. They seem incapable of concentrating on both coitus and contracts at the same time.’ ‘I didn’t say I don’t want to get into your bed. But that’s not the point of this evening’s discussion. And I’m a very grown-up boy.’ They paused as the waiter arrived with sparkling water. The fresh ice cracked and spat in the glass. ‘You told me when we met at Downing Street that your corporate image is everything.’ ‘True.’ ‘Then why don’t you start taking it seriously?’ She refused to rise to his bait. ‘I spend tens of millions of pounds on it, as you know. Some I used to spend with you.’ ‘On advertising, yes, but it’s an art form that has had its day. You’ve got to grow far more sophisticated. At least as sophisticated as your enemies.’ ‘Enemies?’ ‘You go into battle every day with eco-warriors who are trying to kill you. One oil spill, one rusting drilling platform being towed around the North Sea in search of a burial place, a baby seal which dies on a beach from unknown causes – any event like that, so long as it happens in front of a camera, and all the millions you spend on your image as a warm and caring oil company become about as effective as confetti in a Force Nine gale.’ ‘Much the same can be said when newspapers like yours scurrilously and inaccurately accuse me of greed for getting a pay increase.’ She intended to wound but with Corsa it had no more effect than a soup spoon lobbed at a charging rhino. ‘Precisely! But have you ever asked yourself why you get such a hard time in the media? You’ve got to remember that even if journalists aren’t bone idle they’re all up against tight deadlines. We need news in a hurry. So the pressure groups lay a feast before us – videos, apocalyptic quotes, regular updates, even free propaganda T-shirts to wear in the garden at weekends. If we want a picture, they lay on one of their helicopters to get us the best shot.’ The bottom half of his face had grown animated, yet the eyes remained hard as coal. ‘D’you know the last thing they do before they chain themselves to trees or cut holes in the fence around a nuclear power station? They check to make sure that the batteries on their mobile phones are fully charged.’ ‘But those bloody people make it up as they go along. They lie.’ Her lips had tightened, he was getting to her. He raised a patronizing eyebrow. It was his turn to mock. ‘They lie!’ she repeated. ‘Doesn’t that matter to the press?’ Her nostrils flared in protest, then slowly subsided. ‘Forgive me. I’m not usually naive.’ He leaned forward tenaciously, both hands gripping the table. ‘You told me yourself that it’s a war out there. And how do you fight it? Maybe you call a meeting of some planning committee, prepare a holding statement, discuss what, if anything, you dare to say. By which time it’s already too late. As far as the media are concerned you give us nothing but yesterday’s sardines wrapped in slices of stale bread.’ She paused, running her finger around the rim of her wine glass, listening to the mournful note. ‘Forget about advertising,’ he insisted. ‘It’s hard news you need to worry about. Play the enemy at their own game. Get your retaliation in first. Screw ’em!’ The wine waiter had returned with the Burgundy. Grand Cru. Exceptional. From a chateau that nestled against the rising hills outside Puligny which the waiter knew and much loved. He handled the bottle with almost phallic respect, presenting it formally, running his fingers gently down its shaft, demanding both their attention and admiration. Then he produced a corkscrew, sheathed it around the long neck and twisted and turned and screwed until the arms of the corkscrew seemed to rise gently above its head in a gesture of feminine surrender. The cork came out with a sigh of silk sheets. It was a wonderful performance, a gesture so rich in overtones that Corsa shivered in appreciation, as he did with all good business. She’d noticed too. She raised her glass. ‘I’ll drink to that.’ She stared directly at him across glasses filled with fine, honeyed liquid. ‘It sounds, Freddy, as though you want to lend me your front page.’ ‘Oh, no,’ he smiled, ‘not lend. I’ve something much better in mind for you.’ Goodfellowe had fallen for Werringham School as soon as he had driven into the grounds on his first visit – and well before he had discovered the cost. By that time it had been too late, his heart was committed, and the expense was simply another part of life that his thought processes struggled desperately to cordon off and ignore. The school was set in thirty acres nestling in the cupped hand of the Somerset uplands as they pushed towards the River Exe. That first time, as he had driven along the school drive – when he still had a licence to drive – there had been azalea and maple and pleached limes. Buzzards rested in the huge cypress trees before gliding gracefully up on the thermals that gathered in the bowl of the hills. If it couldn’t be home for Sam, it was as close as she was likely to get in any institution. Warm and protecting. But it could never be home. The day of the fashion show he arrived unannounced after a slow train journey from Waterloo. He had hoped to remain inconspicuous, the reminder about term fees still burning in his pocket, but no sooner had he reached the porch of the old sandstone manor house which formed the centre of Werringham than he was intercepted by a regional television crew. ‘Bright girl, your daughter,’ the female interviewer smiled as they stood him in front of the camera. ‘Badgered us into sending a crew. Made us feel that if we refused we’d be responsible for famine throughout the whole of central Africa. Didn’t tell us you were coming, though.’ And he had said a few words about the school and the girls and the example that the young could give us all. Then he had run straight into Miss Rennie. ‘An unexpected pleasure, Mr Goodfellowe,’ she acknowledged, looking him sternly in the eye. She had the sort of Presbyterian stare which seemed to go straight through to his bank balance. ‘I hope you’ll have a chance to linger after the fashion show. I would welcome the chance of a quiet conversation.’ ‘I’m afraid I must be back in Westminster for seven. A vote.’ ‘A pity. We need to talk. It’s not ideal but … perhaps we could sit together during the show. The opportunity for a few words, at least.’ There had been no question of a refusal and, much out of sorts, Goodfellowe had gone in search of Samantha. But it was not to be. Parents were not welcomed in changing rooms where twenty teenage girls were in a state of considerable excitement and undress. Instead he spent a few minutes strolling around corridors which smelt of lunch and wood polish, remembering his own school days. The memories stirred once more, making him grow angry, stubborn. Even after all these years he could still feel the arrows of teenage torment, buried in him up to their feathers. The humiliation of being forced to pack, to leave in the middle of term through no fault of his own, yet in disgrace. The taunts of his fellow schoolboys who didn’t understand, and his wretched inability to respond because he didn’t understand either. He didn’t understand why his father had let him down, had let them all down, and why the name of Goodfellowe had become something which excited only derision. That had been the reason he’d gone into public life, to restore the name of Goodfellowe. And that was also why he could never let Samantha down in the same way, no matter what the cost. He squeezed in beside Miss Rennie onto one of the familiar coccyx-crushing chairs which breed in the storage rooms of every place of learning. She was sitting ramrod straight, as though on guard. A no-nonsense pose. He decided not to flannel. ‘Miss Rennie,’ he muttered, ‘thank you for your patience, but I think you’d like to know that I’m seeing my bank manager next week. I feel sure the problem with the fees will be resolved then.’ That is kind,’ she nodded thoughtfully, staring ahead. ‘Kind. It’s been worrying.’ ‘There’s no need for you to worry, Headmistress.’ ‘Oh, but I do, Mr Goodfellowe, I don’t wish to be impertinent, but – well, this isn’t the first time. I’ve often wondered why you don’t do what I understand many other politicians do and take on a consultancy, perhaps, some outside interest which would help you with the school fees. Relieve the pressure.’ He sighed. ‘Perhaps you’re right. I do have one consultancy as it happens, with the CPF.’ Miss Rennie raised an eyebrow. ‘The Caravan Park Owners’ Federation.’ The eyebrow, a tiny tangle of heather, rose still further. ‘But I’ve always thought,’ he continued, ‘that – how can I put it without sounding too pompous? – the job of an MP is in the House of Commons and his constituency. Not around boardrooms and lobby groups.’ ‘But term after term, Mr Goodfellowe. And we all share in your pain, truly we do.’ He doubted that, but decided this was not the time to argue the point. ‘I’ll think about it. I promise. But I must remind you. Not a word to Samantha. I don’t want her to worry.’ ‘Mr Goodfellowe, I shall breathe not a word but it would surprise me if she didn’t have some grasp of the situation.’ He could see the genuine concern in her grey eyes. ‘Samantha is a very talented and resourceful girl. We would be sorry to see her go …’ ‘I trust there’s no question of that, Headmistress. As I said, next week …’ ‘It’s not entirely a matter of money, Mr Goodfellowe, but what is best for Samantha. To be honest, in spite of the excellent work of which she is capable and her initiative in organizing the fashion show, she doesn’t seem happy here at Werringham. Surely you must have noticed?’ ‘Well, I … hadn’t noticed, to be honest. She’s going through a phase, of course. But most teenagers do.’ ‘She’s a lonely girl, Mr Goodfellowe, with few friends.’ ‘Oh,’ he responded, deflated. ‘I suppose it doesn’t always help having a politician as a father. She must get ribbed about that. My fault.’ ‘It’s more than that. She doesn’t want to fit in. I’ve never been sure she ever wanted to come to Werringham.’ ‘It’s true that she was very happy at her old school. But after her mother … well, I’m in London all through the week. It had to be boarding school. There was no other choice.’ ‘I’m not unsympathetic, you understand, but I must bear in mind what is best for Samantha. She has considerable ability, of that there’s no doubt, and her artistic skills are exemplary, but at times she seems to be easily distracted. Even stubborn. She flatly refuses to participate with the other girls at team sports. Goes off on her own during her town time – I suspect going to places I would regard as altogether undesirable. And with older boys.’ ‘What are you suggesting about Sammy?’ Lurid pictures were beginning to float across the parental mind. ‘Nothing. I am merely expressing concerns. Samantha is unhappy. And, I fear, not altogether the best of examples to the other girls. I have them to consider, too.’ The conversation had been blown into poorly charted waters. Suddenly he found himself wishing for a return to the more familiar if equally hazardous ground of his personal finances but, before he could respond, a splash of Live Aid music had showered upon them and, through a fog of dry ice, the fashion show had begun. Down a catwalk built from the centre of the stage emerged a parade which combined exuberance, propaganda, Viyella and vivid colours, hats, sequins, satin, yards of youthful thigh and a measure of naive taste. Then there was Sammy. He could not stifle a sharp intake of breath. The clothes themselves, designed by Samantha and made up by other more skilled seamstresses, consisted of carefully flared trousers which began three inches below her navel and had laces down the thigh. Her shoes had huge heels which made his blistered feet weep in sympathy. Three inches above the navel began a crop-top which outlined a figure that had become undeniably soft and feminine. At that moment and for the first time he realized that his little girl, so innocent in school uniform and shapeless jeans and jumpers, was growing up all too fast. It made her unfamiliar; he was suddenly afraid he was losing her. A large waistcoat of patchwork velvet finished off the clothes. Above, around her neck, was a gap where her mother’s locket might have been. So far, none of this was exceptional apart from the effervescence and simple sense which had gone into the effect. What caused further intakes of breath from all around – not just from himself but most noticeably from Miss Rennie – were the deeply personal accessories. The spikes of brilliant orange where before had been soft auburn hair. Purple lips. The bared left shoulder from which sprouted the tattoo of a rose in bloom. And another gap, between halter and hipsters, where a gilded chain encircled her hips and threaded up to an all too obvious gold ring that had been pierced straight through the flesh of her navel. The cameras were beside her now, following her confident strides up and down the catwalk. She appeared heedless of the stir of unease from parents in the audience, perhaps even relishing it. Yet in the farther recesses of the hall something else stirred. Approval and applause began to break through like spring daffodils, cautiously at first, then more abundantly and with greater confidence until they had spread inexorably through the carefully planted rows of chairs and were swirling around the foot of the stage. The cameras turned on the audience, which began to respond, elders matching the enthusiasm of their offspring. But not Goodfellowe. He remained immune to the infection sweeping through the hall. This was his little girl, barely out of braces and bobby socks. Or was it? She seemed strangely unfamiliar, unknown to him. ‘What on earth do you call that … that …’ – words failed – ‘grunge?’ ‘You’re out of date, Mr Goodfellowe. That’s definitely post-grunge,’ Miss Rennie offered without a trace of humour, but joining in the applause as the cameras panned towards her. It was the only way. Apparent enthusiasm. The honour of the school was at stake. Cameras appeared to be everywhere that week. It was Friday, mid-afternoon, and Goodfellowe was driving – more correctly being driven – back to Marshwood. One of the few blessings of being stripped of his licence was that the Member for the neighbouring constituency, Lionel Lillicrap, was a colleague of long standing and had been more than willing to help with lifts. In fact, Lionel was the only blessing which arose from that sorry episode – apart from the fact that he could drink without damnation for at least another eight months. Goodfellowe and Lillicrap had entered the House together, twelve years earlier, sharing in the early days both ambition and a Commons office, yet it had been Goodfellowe on whose brow the laurels of early promotion had fallen. Indeed, he had been the coming man. He was granted grudging respect by his civil servants and, more grudgingly still, by his colleagues, and it was agreed by consensus that Goodfellowe had far to go. Cabinet Ministers engaged in backstairs battle in order to secure his services as their Number Two, regarding him as a rock in the stormy legislative night. They reserved for Goodfellowe the highest parliamentary accolade, that he was ‘a safe pair of hands’. As he hacked his path through the Ministerial jungle his diary had struggled to fit in days in Davos and weekends in Washington. An invitation to sit around the brown-baize Cabinet table seemed an inevitable next step. It had been the trip of a lifetime and as companion on that trip he had taken Lillicrap as his PPS. Rising Ministers are allowed Parliamentary Private Secretaries, ambitious men and women who are willing to engage in the most menial of tasks around the House on behalf of their masters, pouring drinks, running errands, taking in dirty parliamentary laundry, carrying their Minister’s papers in the hope that one day they will be able to carry such papers in their own right. One foot on the ladder, yet with the other still stuck in the cloying mud of the backbenches. If it had been innately irksome for Lillicrap to watch his contemporary speed ahead of him, at least he was grateful for the opportunity to follow, and he took reassurance from the fact that he was fully five years younger than Goodfellowe – he had time on his side. Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/michael-dobbs/goodfellowe-mp/?lfrom=390579938) на ЛитРес. 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