He watched the tide roll in, lapping at the pebbled sand. The cries from the beach house had ebbed; his wife, having managed to get their infant son settled for his afternoon nap, had likely stretched out on the sunlit bed by the crèche to catch a few moments of peace. He could see, in the distance, tiny figures running across the shore, hear the whoops and screams of laughter of tourists splashing each other in the waves. Below the shadow of his Panama hat, the sun, just beginning its retreat, was warm on his face.
Were it not for the gun aimed between his eyes, the afternoon would have been quite perfect.
Ross Lowell leaned his elbow on the arm of the chair, pushing himself up to stare her in the face. “Really,” he said, “I don’t see the need for that.”
Sam Cassidy shrugged. The wind from the ocean batted the folds of her floral sundress around her legs; when it caught, he could just see the lump of scar tissue above her knee. Another woman might have chosen a longer hemline to conceal it, but, then again, another woman would either have not brought a gun to a stroll on the beach with her husband, or at least wouldn’t have worn flip-flops to an assassination.
Politics, though, was a different game these days.
“It makes me feel safer,” Sam replied.
“It’s hardly befitting a representative of His Majesty’s government. Last I heard, the war was over.” Mockingly, he held up both his hands. “I surrender.”
“We’re well past that,” Sam said. “I’m here on my honeymoon, believe it or not.”
He looked from her to her husband. Lowell had never actually met Sundeep Gowda in the flesh, and he’d stayed largely out of the headlines even as Sam had become somewhat of a national icon, remaining a curious piece of trivia for the tabloids and gossip blogs attached to the intriguing young upstart who was set to win West Ham in a landslide. How, Lowell thought, times had changed.
“We never had a proper one. Unless you count the jaunt to Elephant & Castle that one time. Barely any rats. That was almost like a holiday.”
Lowell still faithfully read British dailies, despite his wife’s constant reminders that short of a miracle, he’d never return to his homeland, that they lived in Majorca now, that there was really no need. The sun, the ocean, the endless stretch of sand, none of it was enough to cure him of his addiction or his morbid fascination. This close to the election, he was mildly surprised that Sam was allowed off the campaign trail, even for a weekend.
“Does Malcolm know you’re here?”
Semi-reformed terrorist or not, she was a beautiful girl, tanned and backlit in the golden hour when the sun peaked low in the sky. It would have been easy to underestimate how dangerous she could be, how many lives she’d ended.
“Present company excluded,” she said with a significant glance towards her husband. “Malcolm’s the most brilliant person I’ve ever met. But every man has his blind spots, and it’s been my job for some time to ensure that his don’t fuck up the country.” She stepped closer, her shadow cool where it fell over him. He was close enough to grab the gun, though he suspected it wouldn’t have gone well for him if he’d tried. “Malcolm promised you your life and reputation, and all of this.” She waved a slim hand towards the things he’d worked so hard to build, the sprawling white beach house, his beloved family inside, innocently sleeping while this madwoman and her pet anarchist threatened all their lives. “I won’t break that promise. Darling, if you would?”
Sundeep did something on the tablet he was holding and turned it so that Lowell could see. There were his various bank accounts—including the ones he’d been quite sure, up until now, that no iteration of the British government knew about—a GPS feed of his property, NHS health records, his entire life in little windows displayed for anyone to see, all of it in real time.
“We’ve been working hard to dismantle the surveillance state you’ve put in place,” Sundeep said, and had it not been for Sam’s revolver, Lowell might have pointed out that it was their lot that put it there in the first place. Though maybe they were both too young to remember that. “The interim government is very much committed to the privacy and freedom of the individual. It’s the first point in Murray’s election platform. I think that’s very nice, don’t you? Idealistic, considering.”
Sam nodded in agreement, showing too many white teeth.
“Thing is,” Sundeep said. “I don’t work for the government.”
“He doesn’t even vote.”
“Never voted. It just encourages bastards like Malcolm Tucker.”
“And Sundeep here will be on you like a creepy Sting song,” Sam chimed in. “Every e-mail, every page hit, every financial transaction, every movement. Should you ever step out of line, the deal’s off. Your assets are seized and nationalised, your name goes on the no-fly list, and Ross Lowell as we know him becomes a non-entity. Your entire life is now in the hands of an anarchist hacker whose family was murdered by your government. Everywhere you go, whatever you do, when you feel that prickle on the back of your neck, like someone’s watching, like someone has their finger on the button?” She stooped, brought her face close to his as if leaning in for a kiss. “That’ll be us, you fucker. You get to live when better men and women rot in their graves. You even get to be rich. And history will remember you as a hero, not as the coward and butcher we both know you are.” She took a deep breath, searched his face to ensure she had his attention. “But none of you bastards ever gets to be free.”
Sam straightened, and the breeze caught the dark curtain of her hair. She slipped the hand that wasn’t holding a gun into her husband’s palm. Smiled, brightly.
Fractured sparks of sunlight danced over the ocean, and the tide, ever higher, rose to fill in her footprints as she walked away.
Only Jamie could make being manhandled off the crowded sidewalk in front of the pub and stuffed unceremoniously into the back of a ministerial car feel less like a violent kidnapping and more like a rescue. The psychotic press-officer-turned-priest-turned-insurgent had been demoted to babysitting duty while Nicola watched the ballot count, deflecting the hack pack and various hangers-on at the polling station with the cool efficiency of a bobby directing traffic until she’d managed to blurt out the last lines of a prepared speech.
“The lady’s said her bit,” he snapped. “We’re away to Westminster now, so you can all fuck right off.” The last three words, Nicola noted, were softened by the small, pointed grimace that was as close to Jamie got—at least in situations that didn’t involve Malcolm or the kids—to a normal person’s smile. Don’t mind me, I’m as soft and cuddly as I look, I’ve no intention to light anyone on fire. Today.
“Thanks,” she breathed out, working at her seatbelt as the cameras flashed a bright glare off the rear window, her heart still threatening to leap from her mouth and make a break for it. Despite the empty seat between them and his less-than-imposing stature, Jamie had already managed to take up much of the back of the car, a messy spread of papers and devices scattered across his lap and over the leather interior. She squished into the door, steeling herself against the inevitable motion sickness when the car shuddered into motion.
“Yeah, well.” Jamie slid from window to window on the tablet, tracking exit poll numbers that wouldn’t be official for hours, flicking past BBC footage of the armoured convoys that carried crates of ballot boxes along roads still pockmarked with the scars of shells and IEDs. “I had 50 quid on ye no’ completely fuckin’ up the lines, so I’ve a vested interest in your gob opening as infrequently as possible. Congratulations, by the way.”
“You too. I mean, on not having to pay Malcolm’s tab at the pub.”
He stared at her, gigantic blue eyes blinking, then barked out a laugh and produced a flask from a jacket too immaculately tailored for him to have picked it out himself. The whisky, a world away from the now legendary Tube arse-wash, burned a path down her parched throat to settle warmth around her lungs. She took several slow breaths and was about to raise the flask to her lips again when Jamie batted her hand away. “One of us gets tae not upchuck on King Chuckles tomorrow morning,” he said, which of course sent a new flutter of panic through her—panic, and a feeling so utterly foreign that it took Nicola long seconds to identify it as hope.
Their mobiles buzzed simultaneously; above Josh shouting excited congratulations through the noise of what sounded like a party, she could hear bits of Jamie’s call. “—fucktarded thundercunt said what on ITV? I’m on it, soon as—well, I’ll send Ella over with a cattle gun to put the flailing dong-gobbler out of his misery, then, if ye cannae live without me for the night, they must have one up there in Outer Shitsville.” She squeezed one ear shut to drown out a near-incomprehensible barrage of obscenity that seemed to happen every time his improbable love life and equally unlikely career intersected, and which ended only as the car slowed for a checkpoint. Despite the fact that it was her own government that had requested the additional security, despite the blue berets and the khaki and the friendly chatter with the driver, she flinched. Jamie stiffened and reached, impulsively, for the rifle he didn’t carry anymore, and she was faintly relieved that she wasn’t the only one who hadn’t adjusted yet.
“Be there soon.” His hands clenched and relaxed, finally, and his volume dropped to nearly gentle. Paused. “…you too. Sentimental twat.” Nicola turned her face to the glass, to the snaggletooth skyline of cranes and wreckage, flushing like she’d walked in on her parents in the act.
And then they were moving again, past the rows of sandbags and the tired soldiers, into the battered heart of London.
It was the strangest election night that Nicola could remember. Hacks aside—and she recognised precisely none of them, God, even from her position she hadn’t managed to get her head around just how many pens the Regime had silenced—a sizable minority of those crowding One Brewer’s Green weren’t members of the Party, probably hadn’t even been political before the war. They’d crawled, apparently, out from under the wreckage to volunteer out of loyalty to or curiosity about her, or Malcolm, or—as was more likely the case—the unpredictable, semi-autonomous movement that they’d inadvertently spawned and that hadn’t conveniently shrivelled and died the instant they’d declared a return to politics as usual. Even with victory almost certain, the mood was restrained, as if the very air had grown thick with the presence of the dead.
Jamie stuck close by her, and for the first half-hour or so, she was granted a tiny island of serenity in the flurry of staffers and ringing phones. Josh and Suzi were weaving their way though the crowd, and she managed brief eye contact with Katie before her eldest was whisked away in a flurry of excited ex-Resistance members.
Despite the throngs, she felt strangely removed from the action. From where she stood (smiling for the cameras, shaking hands, but never saying anything that could be recorded, strangely safe and in control), she watched Sam trading stories with Affers Messinger, a drunken Barry teaching a cluster of slightly less drunk young acolytes the lyrics to “The People’s Flag Is Palest Pink,” and—not at the centre of the web, where he had every right to be, but by a blockade of cardboard boxes jutting out from the wall—the grey scarecrow that no one would have recognised as the man who’d freed Britain.
Malcolm was ensconced in a huddle of staffers, snarling out vitriol into his mobile. From what she could piece together, the subject of his current rampage wasn’t that newly elected rural candidate who’d, in a moment of excitement and confusion, stuttered out something that might—according to Jamie—be construed as a wee bit racist, but about reports of violence at the polls in Eastleigh and Boston. When Jamie walked through the door, Malcolm lifted his head and stared past the wall of eager young things desperate for his attention, across the crowded room for several long minutes before disappearing behind the boxes. It was all the acknowledgment, Nicola thought, that Jamie would get for hours, but at least for the moment he was content.
“He seems happy,” Nicola offered, and immediately felt foolish. By any objective measure, that would never be true, though she thought Jamie understood what she meant.
“Eh? I suppose he is. He’s got what he wants.”
“I wouldn’t think—” Jamie looked at her sharply, as if daring her to continue, and she reminded herself of which of the two had actually killed someone. “—only that I can’t see him as a family man. Settling down. You know.”
“Oh, aye, he’s got the heart of a child. Several, actually. We had tae have a shelf installed to keep all the jars.” Nicola must have looked aghast, because Jamie snorted. “I meant the election, ye batty mare, ye think anything else matters compared to that? Relax, yeah? You’ve fuckin’ won, or as good as, and we can’t have ye lookin’ this sour once the paps decide tae swarm.” He squeezed her upper arm, the pinch of broken nails into her skin a reminder that he’d still been busting skulls only a few months ago, the pattern of calluses not yet faded from where his fingers had gripped a trigger. “For what it’s worth—and don’t you ever, ever, tell him I said this—but we could do worse than you. Now go shake some fuckin’ babies and try not tae trip over yourself. It’s gonnae be a long night.”
She drifted, dazed, through the crowd, her own face (tired, makeup smudged and fading) mirrored on half a dozen small televisions. She made a few attempts to watch the coverage. It was subdued, lacking in Dimblebies, the swingometer stuttering over false calls as a patchwork landscape unfurled across the vast field of formerly-grey, the electoral map irrevocably altered by Exclusion Zones, by entire constituencies depopulated, by borders redrawn. She had no idea how they’d managed even this much. She was transfixed until a retrospective of the prominent dead appeared on the screens and she had to turn away and force herself to stare at the wall of boxes, to wonder where they’d come from and who had brought them and what was in them, lest she be confronted, not for the first time that evening, with the same pixellated photo of Ollie and Emma in Venice.
She didn’t notice that the quality of the shouting had shifted until someone asked her how it felt and she replied, detached, “how does what feel?”
“Mum!” It was Ella, Katie behind her with Josh and Suzi in tow, wild-eyed and grinning, babbling that the Opposition—or what passed for it, clinging to dusty corners of the country—had conceded. Ella, who’d always given her the most trouble, who’d been her headache and her soldier and her comrade and now, tenuously, her daughter again, was the one breaking through her cocoon, pulling her back to the world of the living.
Guilt stabbed through her mental fog. Once again, they’d been an afterthought, even with the hell she’d dragged them through. She’d have even less time with them, and they’d already grown so big. Perhaps they’d been irrevocably lost to her.
“It’s over,” Ella said, “Go on, you’ll need to say something.”
She couldn’t speak. She’d won a long, grueling game where the prize was everyone hating her. Her heart spluttered, each beat speeding to overtake the next, her entire body suffused with a floaty, indistinct sense of weightlessness. Only inertia and the crowds kept her from falling.
A bony hand gripped her shoulder. Years of practice allowed her to stifle a shriek. He hadn’t lost his ability to materialise from thin air, and she shouldn’t have assumed that just because he looked as close to happy as a sleep-deprived Thestral could manage, he was ever going to be any less of a nightmare to deal with.
Malcolm hissed: “If you want your time in office to last longer than Ben Swain in a cave full of Weeping Angels, you’ll give the cameras a smile, say something fuckin’ dignified and statesmanlike, and do whatever I tell you for the next five years. Or you’ll wish you’d never crawled out of that tunnel.”
Nicola froze. She didn’t remember the script—had there been one? It seemed a thing that Malcolm would have insisted on, except that now the heat of the room was pressing down on her and if anything had been written, it’d escaped from her hours ago. She wasn’t even convinced that she remembered how to speak. For her paralysis, for every time that she’d stumbled and fucked up and disappointed, for her stupid, stubborn ambition that hadn’t let her keep her head down and trudge through life like a regular person, she was about to be eviscerated on a live video feed broadcast to the entire world.
And so she did the only thing she could think to do, which was to spin on her heels, wrap Malcolm in a fierce hug, and pray that it played brilliantly for the cameras.
She felt him slacken almost imperceptibly against her, his face pressed against the top of her head. “You will pay for this in blood,” he murmured, but his long arms closed around her, turned them both slightly aside so that the photo that would run on the front page of every daily in the country showed his crippled hand, the tears that she’d not noticed at the time smearing mascara into the creases around her eyes, and her children lined up behind them. From somewhere in the room, she could hear Jamie making loud kissing noises. She told herself that if the two of them, violent lunatics that they were, managed to somehow balance running the country with having their children not hate them, her own life wasn’t entirely a lost cause.
For a time, she thought, they’d be loved for that image, Britain’s careworn saviours in their tired moment of triumph, their myriad sins forgiven. And afterwards, well. All of history was made of bits of afterward, and they’d do the small amount of good that they could manage.
It was still yet another hour before Nicola could be shuffled off home and various underlings—fuck, the average age of the new Press Office recruits looked to be about 12 these days; had they always been toddlers?—could be dispatched to mopping-up duties, and Jamie’s mobile stopped vibrating for long enough that he was convinced the poor device had glimpsed its unrelentingly bleak future of constant abuse and committed suicide. He was free.
There was no real need for plausible deniability anymore and Malcolm didn’t insist on it, but Jamie still kept more of a distance from him than he might have otherwise liked. It wouldn’t dissuade the wank rags from spewing salacious details of Westminster’s worst-kept secret, except that they’d look utter cunts if they’d tried. Besides, the rumours that Malcolm—who’d been scary enough before he’d had half of London blown to shit—might possibly still have access to actual weaponry and the inclination to use it was enough to give even the Mail pause before it went prying into dark places.
“That’s it then,” Jamie said as the car pulled up. “Our lives, in loyal service to the glorious cause of keeping these tedious spunktrumpets in power, from now until the receding hairlines and the haemorrhoids and massive strokes behind our desks.”
“Fuck you, I’m planning tae live forever.” Malcolm ducked into the back seat, tugging Jamie after him, and flashed a grin very much like the one he used to have, pre-Tom, when he’d been unstoppable and hungry. Jamie was caught off guard—as he’d always be, years, decades from now—by just how savagely beautiful he was. “And my hair is magnificent, ye wee dickstain.”
Well, Jamie thought, can hardly argue with that. Once inside, the cab a hermetically sealed bubble from the press and the Party and the endless parade of shite that comprised the entire outside world, Malcolm slid against the seat and half-closed his eyes, gone suddenly stiller than Jamie’d seen him in weeks. Jamie bent forward, critically evaluating the back of the driver’s head, then carefully moved the corner of Malcolm’s coat aside and ran a fingernail up the inside of his leg. That got him an irritated growl, even if Malcolm was too tired to open his eyes beyond slits, but Malcolm didn’t shove him off.
Experimentally, still watching the driver, he slipped a hand down the front of Malcolm’s trousers. For the endless, excruciating centuries of the election, that hand had been Jamie’s primary sexual partner; on the rare nights that Malcolm had actually managed to make it as far as the bed, he’d been too exhausted to do anything beyond curling against Jamie’s back and catching one or two hours of sleep before dragging himself back to work while it was still dark outside. Now, after three days or so of mainlining Red Bull and presumably sleeping on the floor of Nicola’s office—at least, Jamie thought, it had better be her floor; he didn’t fancy ordering an airstrike for the next cabinet meeting—he was, it seemed, more awake than he was letting on.
“Fuck, Malc. I wish I could believe this was for me—” Squeezing, ever so slightly, and Malcolm moaned and melted into his touch. Jamie’s own cock twitched at how responsive Malcolm was, snapped immediately back to alertness, at just how little it took to get him going. “—and not for the Party’s big, firm mandate.”
Malcolm smirked, signaling his obvious disapproval by hooking a foot around Jamie’s ankle and dragging him closer. “If us in power,” he said, and his voice, hoarser than it had once been but more than enough to turn him on every fucking time, “doesn’t get you harder than post-structuralism, you’ve either picked the wrong calling or I’ve picked the wrong fuck.”
“No’ bloody likely, given your otherwise fuckin’ abysmal taste,” Jamie said. Malcolm grabbed a fistful of his tie and pulled him, his limbs flailing in multiple directions and his head buzzing with sleeplessness and nicotine patches, into his lap and caught his mouth in a kiss that was more teeth than lips. Jamie managed to right himself—barely, their driver having decided to preserve his own sanity by careening like a maniac to get them home as quickly as possible—and straddle Malcolm’s legs. He was dimly aware that he was only marginally on the good side of 50 and dry-humping a man who was, technically speaking, his boss again. And in the back of a car like a mouthbreathing ned on a smash-and-grab, no less.
The car hadn’t quite rolled to a complete stop before they were tumbling out of the door. Malcolm flung out an arm to stop Jamie from drunkenly careening into his precious fucking hedges, then pushed him up against the front door of their house (their house, fucking hell, he’d not get used to that in a thousand lifetimes) and kissed him again, all ungainly angles and blatant disregard for whatever paps might have been long-lensing them. Jamie might have barrelled through the door and thrown Malcolm on the living room rug then and there had he not been halted in his tracks by Aileen, in her pajamas, sprawled out on the hardwood floor, awake long past her bedtime and eating Hula Hoops in front of the telly.
“Um,” Jamie said.
“Uh,” Aileen replied. It was a small mercy that Kayleigh and Tara had apparently gone to sleep already.
“We won.” The words were thick in his throat, not yet truly substantial.
“Gathered that.” Aileen was eye-rolling at Malcolm and his uncharacteristically rumpled suit and his hair sticking up in all directions, and worse, they both looked practically conspiratorial, as though the two of them found Jamie’s myriad deficiencies as a parent completely hilarious, and it occurred to him that this really was going to be his life from now on.
He couldn’t shed the grief he’d carried for three years any more easily than Malcolm could have suddenly picked up a pen, couldn’t make himself believe that Aileen was real even when she pulled the odd bout of teenage brattiness. There were times, even now, when her impossible existence left him fumbling for words, like a weight he hadn’t known was there had suddenly lifted from his chest. But it was easier lately to remind himself that she was a person and not just the embodiment of all his losses.
Malcolm picked up the television remote and tossed it at her. “Keep the volume turned up, yeah?”
“Just so you know,” she said, wrinkling her face and flicking a get the fuck out of here before I’m scarred for life gesture in their direction. “You two are paying my therapy bills until I’m 40.”
“Sure,” Jamie said, then added, “love you.” Malcolm, backing up towards the stair, gave the funny little half-shrug he usually reserved as a punchline for Jamie’s more specific and graphic threats.
They barely had any furniture yet (Malcolm insisted that the remnants of the Macdonald family home were fit only for burning or ramming up the arses of insufficiently obedient MPs); the bedroom was still mostly a repository for filing boxes, bed sheets tacked up over the windows because neither of them’d had the time or inclination to look for curtains. It reminded Jamie of that dodgy shared flat in Glasgow where he’d lived in the weird period after the seminary, of his confused attempt to find his place in the world before Malcolm had turned up and decided it for him. It was a construction site, like the rest of London, like Malcolm himself, who stood in front of the closed door, his eyes, hard and glittering, fixed on Jamie. The first pale rays of dawn had already seeped into the room.
“How long’ve we got?”
“Ages. Two hours. One hour, at least. I’ll have you begging me to let you come in half that.”
Jamie snorted. Stepped forward and got to work on Malcolm’s tie. “Should’ve just gone down tae Number 10. I could’ve shagged ye over Nicola’s desk.”
“You’d fuckin’ like that, wouldn’t ye?”
Malcolm shrugged out of his suit jacket and flopped on the bed. The house didn’t have anything approaching decoration, but Jamie’s rosary had appeared mysteriously, weeks ago, wound around one of the bedposts. It rattled against the wood as Jamie hit the mattress and Malcolm climbed on top of him, and he was aware, uncomfortably, of Malcolm watching him notice it.
“For a fuckin’ dyed-in-the-wool atheist, Malc, you have some strange fetishes.”
“Yeah, and for a good Catholic lad, you suck—precisely the amount of cock I’d suspect, actually. Speakin’ of which…”
Jamie reached up and cupped his face. Ran a thumb over his cheekbone and held his gaze for long minutes before Malcolm’s head dipped to nip at his throat, before there were frantic, clumsy fingers ripping his tie loose and sending buttons clattering onto the floor. Malcolm hissed, “—all I could think about, all fuckin’ night, fuckin’ distracting insatiable little cunt,” and fumbled at a pile of condoms scattered on the stack of boxes by the bed.
There’d be time, some day when their lives weren’t an ever-expanding series of catastrofucks, for slow, patient teasing, to explore the alien geographies of each other’s bodies, but until then, he’d hardly object to Malcolm in exhilarated Blitzkrieg mode, grinding him into the bed. Rocking into him, his tongue flicking at Jamie’s earlobe, swirling across the underside of his jaw, and when release finally shuddered through him, whispered something against Jamie’s cheek that they’d both agree, later, couldn’t possibly have ever been uttered by Malcolm Tucker, former revolutionary, terror of Downing Street, and avatar of psychotic fury.
Jamie slumped, spent, into the soft barricade of pillows that, after months sleeping on a lumpy mattress in the tunnels, still felt wrong. Malcolm had gone back to watching him again, his eyes hooded and inscrutable.
“You came back for me,” he said, finally, and Jamie didn’t know if he meant the prison beneath the Ford factory, or London, or whether all of it was as blurred together in Malcolm’s deranged feral cat colony of a brain as it was in his own.
“Aye,” Jamie replied. “So did you.” He didn’t ask, couldn’t ever, why Malcolm would entertain the completely fucking mental thought that he wouldn’t burn the entire world down, twice over, to be the one who stood between Malcolm and whatever boring twatweasel got it in his head to fuck with him. He curled against Malcolm’s chest and picked up his hand. After multiple surgeries and several centuries of PT, it looked slightly less like a shrunken flesh-toned rubber glove stuffed with broken ceramic and strapped haphazardly to his wrist, and each new, slight bend of its fingers had been won in painful increments. He lifted it to his lips and kissed the swollen knuckles, one by one. Felt Malcolm tilt his head towards the window—too much light already bleeding through, there’d never be enough time, wouldn’t ever be as much as they needed—then bent against the top of Jamie’s head, his breathing at last deepening into sleep.
No one who’d ever been on the receiving end of one of Jamie’s tirades would have thought him patient enough, capable of this. Not the sex—there’d been more than one presumptuous cockwomble who assumed they’d been shagging since the late 90s—not even the relationship, such that it was. They’d both been married before, after all, and to people far saner and more stable than each other. But the rest of it, the times that they never managed to properly talk about, when Jamie dreamed of the ocean, when Malcolm descended into a brittle quiet more terrifying than his rages had ever been. His bad days were less frequent than they’d been at the beginning, but there were mornings when he’d wake up, bursts of breath trying to escape from his lungs, and for a split second forget where he was, when Jamie had to open the window and let the reek of London inside until the tripwire tension fled him. Those were the times when Jamie believed, when he knew that he acted, however imperfectly, according to God’s infallible will.
Jamie closed his eyes and the city, in its shouts and shattering glass and traffic jams, continued the slow work of knitting itself back together, of becoming itself again.
“Yeah, well, if you could remove your head from the cavernous valley of your own arse crack—I can send an extraction team, it’ll be Mary Bell spelunking in there with a pick-axe—you’d see the fuckin’ problem here, which is that I did no’ in fact liberate our great nation from the totalitarian clutches of Big Bugger just to have it taken up the chutney by the Hayek fanboys at the IM-fuckin’-F. The answer’s no. We find another way.” A pause; Malcolm moved the mobile farther and farther from his ear, until the voice on the other end threatened to become a comforting blur of white noise. From somewhere beyond the ancient door, a distant rumble signified that someone, possibly several someones, were at this precise moment trying to be anywhere other than in the path of Jamie Macdonald on a bollocking spree. “The PM? Yeah, she’s in agreement. Well, she doesn’t know she’s in agreement, does she, but look, she is fuckin’ committed on this, right? Toodle-loo, fuck off.”
He hung up and ignored the immediate ring that followed. Back to normal, then, if the definition of normal could be expanded as wide as Nigel Evans’ arsehole to embrace a looking glass world where Nicola Murray had been permitted to choose her own clothes in the morning, let alone be trusted with the codes to the nukes. He rolled back in his chair and craned his neck up at the square of unfaded paint left—one of so many squares like it all over the country—from where they’d removed a portrait of Atherton. It was overlaid across the larger shadow of the landscape that had once hung above the fireplace. The picture had been disposed of well before he’d been in any condition to reoccupy his old office, which hadn’t stopped Jamie from riddling that particular wall with dart holes on sheer principle.
He shouldn’t have felt so peculiarly defensive about his office—just an office, people had fucking died—but it had once been his, zealously defended from the Tory hordes and Julius Nicholson’s re-org schemes, and a conga line of Regime cunts had violated its sanctity; they’d in all likelihood committed war crimes from behind his desk. He balled up an already crumpled memo and whipped it at the empty space.
“Redecorating, Malc?” Jamie said, and just because the wee bastard’s appearance immediately lifted his mood several degrees above pantshittingly psychotic didn’t mean that Malcolm didn’t get to resent him for it. He spun back to face the door, and fuck, he’d have to train Jamie to stop doing that cocky rentboy tongue-flicking, leaning-in-the-doorway thing. At least in public, and definitely when the girls were around. And while he was at it, get him to a barber who didn’t suffer from epileptic fits.
Or, he thought, he could just not.
“Already have it planned out,” Malcolm said. “Big fuck-off red flag above the mantle, the Chancellor’s head on a spike as a paperweight, and his bollocks for one of those perpetual motion desk toys.” He wasn’t about to specify which chancellor, either; it had been the new one, of the much more ordinary and fiscally constipated variety, that he’d just been threatening with a particularly violent enema. “As if I’ve the fucking time. I have a revolution to defend, you know.”
Jamie bumped the door closed. “How bad is it?”
“Oh,” Malcolm said. “It’s fuckin’ massive. Billions in debt, billions more if we’re ever going tae sort things properly. The vultures were already circling before the body was cold, and now they’re lining up to fuck the corpse.” He was mixing some of his metaphors, but Jamie nodded. Neither of them had forgotten about this bit, where you ran the country but didn’t really. Even Mandela’d had to turn his back on socialism in the end, and Malcolm was no Mandela.
“We won’t let them,” Jamie replied with enough conviction that Malcolm would at least believe it until the phone started ringing again. He rubbed at his burning eyes. Noticed, as if for the first time, the fine lines in Jamie’s face, the beginnings of grey at his temples. Loved him (and he could, after all these years, call it love, had to; no one but the Party itself had been there for longer, no one else had clawed their way into his heart and grown there like a stubborn fucking abscess that couldn’t be removed for fear of damaging the rest of the organ)—all the more for it. Neither of them was young or unbroken, and there’d been so much pointlessness, so much wasted time, but time, and that endless hunger, the longing to remake the world, remained to them nonetheless.
They could still rebuild. They could still win.
“Of course we fuckin’ won’t.”
Jamie pulled out the chair and dropped into it, propped his feet up on Malcolm’s desk and picked up the closest stack of papers, as if he’d a fucking clue about EU economic policies and infrastructure renewal. He beamed the bright, mad grin of a serial killer.
“Right,” he said. “Where do we start?”