GAME OF STRATEGY
It’s a lot like playing Mafia.
You know, that game that utilises a deck of cards to assign roles to people? Aces count as the Mafia, Queens are doctors, Kings are sheriffs, and the rest are the plebeian majority that hang around and don’t really have a whole lot of value.
Except for a headcount.
When I first stepped into parliament as a doe-eyed new member, I had the greatest hopes to achieve amazing things. I finally felt like I had a voice! All my big ideas now had a platform to be spoken into existence. Unfortunately, I quickly realised it was an exaggerated version of high school. Survival of the fittest, most popular, and with the deepest pockets.
I won’t bore you with the details of all the work it took to get to parliament. It was hard. But, we made it.
I want to take you back to my first Bill.
“I know, Jules. Yes. Thank you.”
Alice puts down her phone and looks over to me. Today will be the first time I sit in on a reading of a new Bill, and she promised she would hold my hand through the whole process. Figuratively, of course.
“So, Simon. It’s been a decade since we’ve allowed a male candidate in our party. You really need to be on your best behaviour.”
I feel my cheeks grow warm. It was very controversial when I began campaigning to serve in our local government. But, something must have connected with the public, because here I am today.
“We’re going to have all of Parliament’s eyes on us. They’re like bloodhounds. Don’t leak a drop.”
Alice is quite fearsome. She has such strength and drive, it’s vastly intimidating.
The room goes quiet as I step across the threshold and follow Alice to our seat. They’re looking at us, whispering. I keep my eyes down and settle next to Alice. Not a drop.
Slowly, the roar of conversation builds up again and I look up to examine the surroundings.
I am struck with awe.
I suddenly realise where I am. I wonder for a moment how many people have sat in this seat before me. The history in the walls, the conversations in the cracks. The thick carpet, recently replaced, warms where feet have walked for centuries.
This is the epicentre of peace, war, protest, and reconciliation. Words sharp as swords, poker-faced shields, angry tears, quiet shame. It has all happened here.
The formalities begin, and I listen carefully to the Bill title.
Dame Selena King’s booming voice fills the room, “I present a legislative statement on the Recycling Reform Bill.”
The Deputy Speaker nods her head. “That legislative statement is published under the authority of the House and can be found on the Parliament website. Can I just ask members leaving the Chamber that you do so quickly and quietly, please?”
Dame Selena continues her speech.
“It's with great responsibility that I read this Bill a first time. The years have proven that current recycling programs drain necessary funds that could be better used in other areas of service, such as in the continued development of our tourist economy. The introduction of the Recycling Reform Bill today is a significant milestone, as the absorption of recycling into waste removal will release funds that will be reassigned to more important issues faced by our current economic climate. When passed, the Bill will create a single removal service and mass deposit site away from our country, maintaining the overall welfare of our citizens, and providing employment for underprivileged workers at said site...”
I cannot believe what I am hearing. I flick through the pages of my planner. We’re not in April already, are we?
Nope. Definitely still March. April Fool’s Day is still a couple weeks away.
“…the Government ran a three-month consultation period with local councils to ensure that everyone had the chance to be heard…”
I glance incredulously around at all the eyes glued on Dame Selena. Some are nodding their heads in approval. Others are furiously taking notes. I see a few women lean over to their neighbour and whisper in her ear. More nods.
I have fallen into an alternate timeline, or some odd time warp. Surely this can’t be real.
The Assistant Speaker stands up, announcing that, “the question is that the motion be agreed to.”
Alice votes aye. She glares at me. I vote aye too. Not a drop.
I wait to hear the noes.
None. All ayes. Not a single opposition.
Speechless, I follow Alice back to our office. She’s on the phone again, making some big, important calls.
I can’t focus. Everyone is so busy. Nobody to talk to.
I decide it is time to go home.
Slow motion, I wander towards the nearest tram stop. I become increasingly aware of the overflowing garbage bins as I pass them on my way. A young girl drops a plastic bottle into a recycling bin. My internal dialogue cringes to realise that if this Bill goes through, there will be no recycling option anymore.
I take a seat and wait for the rumble of the tram.
“Sad, isn’t it?”
I startle as a person sits down next to me.
She has a hat on, low, casting a shadow over her eyes. Her coat’s collar is turned up, covering her chin. Hands in pocket, she stretches out her legs in front of her.
I try to grasp a better visual of the woman’s face, but all I see is a glimpse of red lipstick. She’s careful.
“Who are you?”
“Who won’t tell me her name?”
“What do you want with me?” I ask.
“A favour. I know you don’t want this Bill to go through any more than I do. You’re not alone. I’ll be in contact.”
She firmly shakes my hand, and then walks off.
I glance down at my palm. A bank account name and password, with a small note attached. There’s a lot more where this comes from.
Curious, I type the login details into an app on my phone.
I try very hard to hold back the cuss word, but it slips out.
I think back to my first impression of parliament.
Looks like I just drew the Ace card.
I notice yet another reporter on my tail, hoping to catch me in the act. It’s only been a couple months since the second reading of the Bill, and the public is ready to pounce.
Alice still doesn’t know for sure that I was one of the noes, but she suspects it. I sense her disdain every morning. I try to remain chipper, but it’s not going to last very long. I look up at the cloudy sky and groan at the symbolism of a storm warning.
The bloodhounds have turned their noses to me.
She calls herself, “River,” the woman who met me on the bench at the tram.
She did get in touch. Her instructions were clear. Use the $10,000 to kindly suggest to a member of parliament that they consider a very gentle, “no,” in their next vote.
It didn’t take long for me to find one. Reece was my first. I overheard her complaining to her partner about the pressure she felt to vote, “aye,” at the first reading.
When that first $10,000 was discreetly transferred, River was pinged, and she transferred $20,000 next, insisting that I keep half of it for myself, and use the other half for our next target.
Lynne was a bit more difficult, but I heard that her house was in foreclosure, so I may have suggested that a financial gift would help.
It felt strange, making these suggestions. I felt powerful, fighting for a cause, rallying for what I believed to be right.
Ariana was my first taste of blood. In a fortuitous moment, I observed her in the arms of a young man just outside of a shady motel; a man who was not her husband. One photograph did the trick.
Callie enjoyed one drink too many on a night out with my sister, so I recorded all the sordid details of that event.
Freya was superstitious. A well-timed black cat and a strategically-placed cracked mirror convinced her to side with the noes.
My kitty got extra treats that night.
Those were just my firsts.
Once I had a taste of the blood I couldn’t stop. I would do anything to kill this Bill.
I see the reporter trying to hide behind a bush, and a cool feeling of dread settles in the pit of my stomach. They were getting too close.
I message River to cancel our meeting.
Then I delete the message.
The quiet whiz of a drone somewhere above me draws my attention. I pretend not to see it, but the sound is all-too-familiar for me now.
There is no proof that I’m the mole.
No paper trail, no record. Just speculation.
But of course their noses are pointing at me, the only male in parliament.
I curse my sex.
This is getting out of hand.
She’s been kind to me, despite her harsh exterior. Alice has taken the time to mentor me, to see value in me despite what others think. She found me through my essays on law that I kept hidden on a blog that nobody knew the address to. She found me, somehow.
Sweaty palms, dry mouth. I can’t believe I’m doing this.
The cameras flash as I step up to the podium, determined to defend myself, my country. To make a stand.
I clutch the blackmail notes and photographs in my hand. The mics screech. Live television. Who would have thought I would be here today?
She doesn’t see this coming. She doesn’t deserve it. She’s done so much for me. I can’t let all her hard work on me go to waste.
“People of this city,” I announce. I am surprised at how calm and even my voice sounds. “People of this city, today I bring tragic news. It is with a heavy heart that I must expose this horrendous truth.”
You could hear a pin drop. A drop of blood drop.
I pause. Do I really want to do this?
All cameras on me. Hide all weakness, Simon. Hide it.
“Alice Rogers is not who you think she is.”
I hold up two of the blackmail packages.
“In these envelopes are photographs and letters that Alice wrote to members of parliament, threatening to cause them great pain if they voted in opposition to this heinous Bill. For this reason, the Bill has made it to the Second Reading.”
Even I am impressed by my silver tongue.
“This Bill cannot go through, not when a knife is being held to the neck of innocent politicians seeking to preserve the beauty of our country by maintaining a comprehensive recycling program.”
Alice looks up at me in disbelief. I see the police move towards her. Blackmail is a big no-no.
“People of this country, you have a voice. Use it, for good.”
Cheers. Screams. Reckless merriment and joy. Adulation. Appreciation.
My heart swells with pride.
I watch Alice being led away, tears streaming down her face. If someone had just turned over her card, they would have seen. Just another headcount. Mafia wins.