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Contemporary Fiction Funny

Although it sat perfectly tucked beneath his starched white collar, Ellis straightened his tie for the sixth time during their brief conversation, a mechanical habit he’d developed over many years. It was a trait he resorted to subconsciously whenever he felt particularly anxious. Of all the weeks for Matthew to succumb to the dreaded virus and send this, this … Terry person to him, a replacement boy stepping up to do a man’s job, why did it have to be now?


Knowing how important today was, surely Matthew could’ve made the effort to check himself out of the I.C.U? Surely the ventilator had already done its work on his failing lungs by now? Matthew had been in the damned hospital for a full two days! What the heck was wrong with the youth of today? They had no intestinal fortitude, dropping like flies at the mere whiff of a dodgy microbe.


Meanwhile, Terry might have told Ellis to forget the tie and concentrate instead on restoring his messy comb-over, most of which had slipped sideways from the top of his head, threatening to expose more of his balding pate, but he thought better of it. He’d been warned more than once by Matthew never to interrupt the boss mid spiel, not to ask questions even if he wasn’t entirely certain about something, and definitely not to make direct eye contact, which was why his current, uncomfortable focus flicked intermittently between the wispy grey strands of flyaway hair forming a shaggy verandah over Ellis Monaghan’s left ear and the spot of tomato sauce smeared across the bottom of the very tie the boss couldn’t seem to leave alone.


Ellis mentally berated himself. He knew people. If only he’d had the foresight to have pulled a few ministerial strings with the Hospital Board and had Matthew released from the ward, rather than have to deal with this rosy cheeked Johnny-come-lately. The fate of the nation hardly depended on Ellis’ plan to undermine the Prime Minister but his long-held vision of taking over the country’s top job certainly did.


This would not be the first time he’d misappropriated a copy of the PM’s afternoon address before it had been broadcast at a press session, and released the content as his own brilliant idea at an earlier time-slot, but today’s speech was rumoured to be of something epic in nature. This sounded for all the world as though it had the makings of a great moment in history. This could be just the announcement he had been waiting years to deliver.


Had Matthew been on deck, Ellis had no doubt he would already have had the paperwork in his sweaty fat hands by now and would’ve been well on the way to plotting his mode of verbal attack and surprise; Matthew was quite the trusted and capable corporate spy. Before he’d gone into a semi-coma, Matthew had indicated, however, that Terry was a young but resourceful employee, so all Ellis could do was hold his breath. Partly because he had no choice but mostly because today’s subterfuge would be cutting it fine. Very fine indeed. He had planned to front the cameras mere minutes before the Prime Minister’s own press gathering. The Prime Minister herself would take to the lectern at the opposite end of the Parliament building in front of another gaggle of reporters but it would be too little too late. Ellis would already have delivered his amazing news ̶ whatever it may be ̶ thereby embarrassing the PM and making her look like a cheating, unoriginal phony. Little-Terry-Fresh-Face here had jolly well better come through with the goods!


Ellis took another look at the jittery youth standing, for all intents and purposes, knock-kneed before him, and unnerving concern etched deeper lines across his brow. He wasn’t even sure if the lad had any clue about what he’d already asked of him. He looked to be a vague sort of character, so Ellis grudgingly repeated the instructions just to be doubly sure.


“Do you understand what I’ve SAID?” Ellis bellowed. Terry physically jumped and threw a startled look at the Leader of the Opposition, then remembering the all-important, Rule Number 3 – no direct eye contact, he hastily diverted his gaze out the window and across the river.


“DO you?”


“Oh, yes. That is to say, yes Sir. Absolutely, Sir.”


“Well then?”


“Oh, right. Sure. Well, I’m to obtain a copy of the Prime Minister’s address, print it off and deliver it to your private secretary before eleven o’clock in a sealed envelope marked, ‘Confidential.’ For your eyes only, Sir.”


At the mention of Ellis’ eyes, Terry nervously looked back at the sauce stain and then up to the wispy hair.


“Hmmm … well I don’t suppose anyone, even you, can stuff that up. It’s pretty basic, really.” He pulled at his tie again, hoping against hope that the boy could manage to thieve the document in time and without being caught in the act. Of course, if Terry should happen to be ‘sprung,’ as it were, Ellis would simply deny all knowledge of the deceit. Terry? Terry who?


“Yes. I mean, no, I won't stuff up, Sir. Pretty basic. I'm just wondering why, though, Sir. Like, why would you - "


"You don't have cause to wonder ANYthing, do you hear me? You leave the thinking to me. You keep your mouth shut and do what you're told. Understood? All you have to do is get me that information." The young man nodded vigorously.


Ellis wondered why the boy was still in his office. Time was of the essence. There was a deadline to meet, a ministerial address to commit to memory, a press gang to win over and a voting fan base to enthrall. “Then GO!” he barked.


***


Ellis paced the floor, figuratively wearing down the carpet pile around his mahogany desk. Where in the wide green world was that damned boy with the envelope? He’d stuck his head out the door every two minutes past the eleventh hour to check with his secretary, but nothing. The silence was driving him berserk. The lack of paperwork was giving him a thumping headache. Any moment he may have to start banging his head on the desk just to physically prove to all and sundry how absolutely irate he was.


He checked his mobile phone for the umpteenth time and saw that he should already be waiting in the wings one flight down, about to deliver the message of the year and yet here he was, wild, humiliated and frustrated, stomping his heels into the carpet like a tantrum-throwing three year old. Two minutes to bloody midday! Bloody Matthew!! If that man got out of his hospital bed alive, he would wish he was right back in it! And as for Terry …


“Er…excuse me, Sir,” ventured a timid woman sticking half her face through the office door. “A young man has just delivered this envelope for you. He said to say it was most urgent and that you would – “


“GIVE IT HERE, WOMAN!” Ellis snatched the sealed envelope and stormed past her, knocking her to one side. “OUT OF MY BLOODY WAY!” Ellis thundered along the short corridor, bypassing the lift and made for the stairwell. He did not have time to wait for the elevator to arrive. The big moment had literally come down to the wire and he would now have to face the reporters cold. It was lucky then, that he was a confident orator as well as a man who could think on the hop. He was going places at long last. He had seconds to get to where he needed to be; seconds to deliver an address to the nation.


Ellis pushed his way through the press room door behind the dark blue curtain just as the tall bespectacled man wound up his introduction. “And so, without further ado, I give you Sir Ellis Monoghan.”


Ellis waved to no one in particular and threw out an enigmatic smile that belied his infuriated mindset and frantically beating heart. “Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for coming along today. Believe me, when you hear what I’ve got to say, you’ll be glad you’re here.” Cameras flashed around the room and Ellis smiled again, the small pause allowing him much-needed breathing space.


He felt the thinness of the envelope between his fingers and adlibbed as only he could. “Let me start by saying that today’s announcement won’t keep you here for hours. This may well be a brief briefing but it will change the way in which you view me and the Party I represent."


He carefully slid a finger along the envelope’s seal as he spoke, and extracted a plain piece of A4 paper. As he looked at the typewritten words, his breathing escalated, he turned a strange shade of mauve, then lemon, and he blacked out, hitting his head on the lectern on the way down.


A reporter in the front row made a grab for the sheet of paper, shouting out to the room, “I don’t understand. All it says here is, ‘10 Downing Street, London.’” In a quieter tone he said, “I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.”

July 09, 2021 11:19

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