EXHAUSTION FROM HAVING SEX WITH A MINOR
“THE JOB OF PRIME MINISTER IS NO JOB FOR A WEAKLING,” said Derek Fortham MP, eyes shining in the TV spotlight. “Centuries of British politics have shown us that. It’s a job that calls upon all of a man’s strength. It’s a job for men who know their limitations. Men with perspective. With drive.”
The audience was utterly silent, staring with goggle-eyed hero-worship as Fortham reached into his inside pocket and produced a white slip of paper, which he held between his first and second fingers and waved in time with his speech.
“I always keep my death prediction close to my heart. At the age of fifty-seven I will be knocked down by a car; that’s what it says. I don’t fear it. I’ll never run from it. When I see that car coming, I will stand with feet firm. That’s the kind of strong leadership this country needs.”
Pander, the interviewer, coughed meekly to signal his next question. “Mr. Fortham, how old are you now?” He was a man who knew his allegiances, and it was the most softball question he could have possibly asked.
“Fifty-three,” came the reply instantly. “And yes, I understand perfectly that I have only four years at most, and could only possibly serve Britain as Prime Minister for that long. I see that as my greatest strength. Who wants to vote for some self-serving bureaucrat with one eye constantly on his retirement fund? I have only four years to make my country great and leave a legacy for which I will be fondly remembered.”
A quiet, lovestruck sigh ran through the audience, as Fortham concentrated on keeping his face toward the camera at the best angle to show wisdom and dignity.
“If I could just turn to you, now, Mr. Dunmere,” said Pander, turning to Fortham’s opponent in the polls. “Do you have anything to say to that?”
“Yes, I do,” said Dunmere, shifting in his seat. “While I am in total agreement with my honourable friend concerning the importance of strength and courage in a Prime Minister, one should not play down the equal importance of optimism.” He paused to let it sink in and re-steeple his fingers. “I think it’s naïve to think a Prime Minister would only be a good one if he knew he wasn’t going to last. Rather, it would lend a certain…fatalistic approach to policy. A sense of not having to care about long-term issues because you won’t be around to face them.”
No one seemed moved. Someone in the audience coughed loudly, mingling it with the word ‘wanker.’
“Mr. Dunmere,” wheedled Pander, “how are you, yourself, fated to die?”
Inwardly Dunmere rolled his eyes. This was exactly what he didn’t want to be asked. “I have not received my prediction. I don’t believe in letting yourself get bogged down with that sort of thing.”
There was a murmuring in the audience, and it definitely wasn’t on Dunmere’s side. “To be frank,” said Fortham. “I have enormous respect for my honourable friend and his achievements in the House of Commons, but his stance clearly shows he just hasn’t the belly for the job of Prime Minister.”
“Sorry, I’m going to have to stop you there,” said Pander, now addressing his autocue. “We’ve run out of time. Remember to tune in next week for our election special, and we’ll see with whom the nation lies. Next tonight on BBC2: the new series of Crotch Rocketeers.”
“You have to admit, he’s won everyone over,” said Volger, staring out of Dunmere’s office window. Volger was Dunmere’s campaign manager, a man born, in Dunmere’s opinion, from a long line of evolutionary descendants of rats, lizards, and slimy fish. “Ten points ahead of us and rising.”
“That interview was a sham,” said Dunmere, sitting at his desk with his head buried in his arms. “Not a single question on party policy. Nothing about political experience, nothing about past achievements. Everyone’s. I don’t know. Fixated on his damn death.”
“Well, it’s the crux of his campaign.” Volger plucked one of Fortham’s campaign leaflets from the dartboard. “‘Four courageous years,’” he read aloud. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he believes it himself. I thought you did as well as could be expected. That bit where you talked down fatalism was shooting us in the foot, though. Maybe you haven’t noticed, but 90% of the country’s voters know how they’re going to die. Fatalism is very much the ‘in’ thing right now.”
At that point, there was a cheerful knock on the door and a head and shoulders peered around it. It was Carol, the work experience girl. “Just dropping off the newspapers,” she reported cheerfully, tossing a pile of newsprint onto a nearby chair. “Anything I can get for you, sirs?”
“No, nothing,” snapped Dunmere. “Just leave us alone.”
“Rightosie.” She left.
“I don’t know why you have to be so hard on her all the time,” said Volger. “She only wants to learn from you.”
“So what? Youth isn’t the handicap it used to be. The MP of Rugby and Kenilworth is barely into high school. Everyone grows up so much faster these days. Everyone rushing to reach their ambitions. Nothing motivates people better than a glimpse of their own mortality. I guess you know that.”
“I’m sorry. I just get edgy around young girls.”
Volger went over to the newly-delivered papers and flipped through the headlines. “Not good at all. The media’s one hundred percent behind Fortham. ‘Dunmere Fears Truth,’ Jesus Christ.”
He glanced over at the party leader, who had sunk down into a visible despair. For a moment, the unfamiliar feeling of pity sparked in Volger’s mind. He sidled over to the desk, perched upon it, and injected what he felt was a fatherly tone into his voice. “Look, Fred. You’re a good politician. Everyone sees that. Frankly we should probably be a hell of a lot further behind than we are, but you’re just about keeping our heads above water. And you could turn this race around in a second. All you have to do is go to the nearest death machine and find out—”
“I’ve already had my prediction.”
Dunmere looked up. There was a deep sadness in his eyes. “For Christ’s sake, Volger, I said I’ve had my prediction. I had it done years ago like everyone else. I just don’t want people to know about it.”
“Fred, that little slip of paper is the one thing that could still get you elected. What the hell is your problem? How bad could it be?”
Dunmere looked his campaign director square in the eye, and spoke each word in a quiet monotone, as if each one could set off an earthquake. “I am going to die of exhaustion from having sex with a minor.”
Close to a minute of silence passed between the two men. Volger’s face remained frozen throughout.
“Oh,” he said, finally. He glanced to the door where Carol had been, then back to Dunmere. “So that’s why—oh.”
“When I was nine, my father was arrested for molesting a little girl who lived next door to us,” said Dunmere. “He’d never done anything like that to me, we never suspected a thing, but he was caught red-handed. He was one of them, one of those they’d always warned us about. I hated him for that. And for years now I’ve known that I am destined to do the same thing.”
“Well…the machine can play tricks,” thought Volger aloud, while inwardly making a mental note to jump ship at the earliest opportunity. “Are you sure it wasn’t, like, a coal miner…”
“Minor. With an O. And I’m pretty sure it wasn’t talking about music.” He sighed. “Volger…it makes me wonder if I deserve to be Prime Minister. Knowing that I’m going to do that, I mean.”
“Oh, come on. That’s just the depression talking, you’d never have pushed yourself this far if you really thought that. Look, Prime Ministers have done much worse. You’re not going to let one little future mistake destroy your whole career, are you?”
“It doesn’t matter, does it? Fortham’s going to win.”
It said something about the change of tone in the room that Volger made no effort to contradict him, or make comforting noises. For the rest of the day they spoke of minor business details, scheduled meetings and appearances, neither daring to return to the issue of the death notes or the possibility of overtaking Fortham. Finally, when Dunmere could not stand the stuffiness of his office any longer, he made his excuses and left.
He wandered the streets of London in something of a daze, with no particular destination in mind. Revealing his secret had brought on a strange new perspective. All those concerns he had kept secret and bottled up had finally been revealed. Only to Volger, but even that had been draining. Dunmere stopped dead on a darkened street corner as he realised that he no longer had any wish to be Prime Minister at all. Perhaps it really was just the despair talking, or rationalising the hopelessness of beating Fortham. But he couldn’t shake the bristling hot sense of shame that now ruled his world.
Two days later, Derek Fortham died.
“Run that by me again,” said Dunmere, at his desk.
“He’s been killed,” said Volger, fighting to keep the morose expression on his face. “Stone dead.”
“Knocked down by a car, obviously.”
“No, I mean…how? He’s not fifty-seven yet!”
Volger tossed the morning’s newspaper onto the desk. “Turns out Fortham never gave the exact wording of his prediction. Turns out the phrase was ‘knocked down by a car aged fifty-seven.’”
It took Dunmere a few seconds to figure it out, but when he had, he placed his hand over his eyes. “The car was aged fifty-seven.”
“It was a photo-op at a classic car rally. Wanted to show he wasn’t afraid of cars, I guess.”
“Who’s running in his place?”
“That’s the beauty of it. It’s Winslow. Old Fatty Winslow, old Simon ‘you’ll never get me onto one of those machines’ Winslow. He’s about as popular with the proles as a Christmas tax increase and now the death notes aren’t a campaign issue anymore!” He had now abandoned all pretence of solemnity and was grinning like a man with a coathanger stuck in his mouth. “We can still make it. You can still make it!”
“Well, don’t sound too pleased.”
He was interrupted by a knock at the door, and Carol appeared, she having temporarily taken over from Dunmere’s secretary. “Er, Mr. Dunmere? Sir Richard Merryn is waiting. He’s the owner of—”
“—International Media, yes, I know who Richard Merryn is. What’s he doing here?”
“Jumping ship,” predicted Volger smugly. “Don’t keep him waiting any longer. Bring him in. I was expecting something like this.” Carol glanced to Dunmere for confirmation, who nodded.
Merryn was an imposing figure, as could be expected from the man who ran every mainstream newspaper in the hemisphere. His suit was at least twice as expensive as Dunmere’s and he knew it, judging by the way he walked. He was very tall and very stout, and one could almost feel the floorboards shake as he dropped himself into the chair in front of Dunmere’s desk.
“I’d like to speak to you in private,” he said, pointedly making a gesture toward Volger as if swatting a fly. Volger, ever the diplomat, bowed low and left the room, but Dunmere picked up on the noticeable increase of pressure on the door that meant he was still listening in.
“How can I help you, Sir Richard?”
“Terrible shame about Fortham,” he said, tutting loudly three times. “Terrible, terrible shame.”
“Yes, it was pretty terrible,” replied Dunmere, thinking that, if Volger was slime, then Merryn was the primordial soup from which all slime originated.
“Shame about his party, too. Can’t possibly introduce a credible new candidate in the time they have left. They’ll never get in now.”
“And since your newspapers have been backing them from the start, it’s kind of embarrassing for you. Yes, I know where this is leading.”
Merryn smiled thinly. “I wonder if you do. Of course my papers are going to back you. Even this close to the election our support will guarantee your election as Prime Minister. And in return…”
“Let me stop you there,” said Dunmere, bored. “In return, you want to have my ear. You want to be able to call in favours. I know how this works. Well, forget it. I don’t need your support and I won’t be controlled. Sorry.”
“Don’t apologise, I wasn’t expecting you to go for it. You’re one of those boring, predictable, idealistic sorts.” He crossed his legs and leaned back, sighing luxuriously. “Off the record, you’re pretty relieved about Fortham, right?” It was only barely phrased as a question. “Gets you off the hook with the whole death note thing. So you don’t want to know how you die. Makes sense to me. I mean, I know how I’m going to die, yachting mishap, but I can understand your point of view. Just don’t want to admit that you’re afraid to know, right? Nothing wrong with that.”
Dunmere just nodded. “Perhaps. If there’s nothing else…”
Merryn silenced him by rapidly pulling a slip of paper from his breast pocket. A slip of paper with very familiar dimensions. “Something not many people know about the death machines,” he said, wiggling the slip between his fingers. “Everything they output they also record. The manufacturers keep archives of everything. And you’d be surprised what a few bribes in the right place can get you.”
Dunmere remained silent, his face expressionless.
“See, I couldn’t think of any reason why you wouldn’t get your prediction, not while it was costing you the vote and all. So, out of curiosity, I had a look for myself. And when I did, suddenly it all fell into place.”
He got up. “My papers will start talking you up first thing tomorrow. You’ll become Prime Minister and everyone will be happy. You just remember who your friends are and no embarrassing personal destinies will have to be revealed. I’ll see myself out.”
Dunmere took a deep breath and stood up. “I don’t want to be Prime Minister!”
“Well, not everyone gets what they want, you know,” said Merryn, not turning around. Then he was gone.
Volger came back in, all seriousness returned and practically oozing his way up to the desk. “Do you really not want to be Prime Minister, Fred?”
“God, that’s all you care about, isn’t it. No, since you ask, I don’t particularly want to be Prime Minister anymore. And I definitely don’t want to be a corporate puppet.”
“Look, don’t you worry about Merryn,” said Volger, effortlessly side-stepping the issue. “We’ll dig something up on him. There’re bound to be all sorts to choose from. You just play nice doggie for as long as that takes and then we can assert ourselves. He publishes, we publish. You know how it goes. The old scandal cold war.”
“I’m not happy with any of this. All this…backroom dealing.”
“Well, you’ve always been an idealist, Fred, and no offence, but it’s always been your weakest feature.” He pretended to notice the documents in his hand for the first time. “Oh, the BBC want you in for another interview tonight, just in time for the election. They’re probably sensing the tide turning as well, so it should go easier on you than before. We should go over the issues that need addressing.”
Volger was still going over the issues during the ride to the TV studio that evening, and Dunmere had learned to block him out. He was trying to think. If he stepped down from the race, Merryn would publish, and his political career would be ruined. On the other hand, if he became Prime Minister, he turned the country over to corporate rule: a dangerous slope. And even if that could be avoided, was it fair to let a country be ruled by someone who didn’t want to? It would be like an unwanted child, growing up without getting the love it needed…
The only possibility that Dunmere liked was to continue running, but to lose. Merryn couldn’t blame him for that. But that seemed the least realistic scenario of them all. The opposition was in turmoil after Fortham’s death and no one would ever go for a third party. Like it or not, Dunmere was ahead in the polls. It would take something drastic to change that…
By the time he had dragged himself from his reverie, he was already seated in the studio, baking under the spotlights and the layer of makeup, fidgeting with his hands as the programme’s theme tune heralded the interview. Before he even knew what was happening, Pander was turning to him with questions in hand.
“So, Frederick Dunmere MP,” he said. “How would you say Fortham’s death has affected the possible outcome of the general election?”
“Well, of course the death of my honourable friend was an unqualified tragedy and I was deeply saddened,” said Dunmere, going into automatic. “I have great sympathy for his family and his colleagues at the party, and can only hope they will be able to continue working hard for the values Derek held dear. But having said that, I believe that the cornerstone of a new government is stability, stability that I fear the opposition currently lacks. We’re living in a new age, and it’s time for a new kind of government. Open, accepting, and…honest.”
From the emphasis he had placed on that last word, Volger figured out what Dunmere was planning. Out of the corner of his eye, Dunmere could see him frantically waving his hands and mouthing ‘no.’ He ignored him.
“Yes, honest. And in the interests of this philosophy, and partly in honour of my late friend Mr. Fortham, I have decided to reveal the manner in which I will die. I am to die of exhaustion while having sex with a minor. An underaged person. I apologise for not having been open about it sooner, but I think under the circumstances you could understand why I would wish to conceal it. What has also been concealed from public eye is the fact that my father was himself imprisoned for a paedophilic act, and in the name of our new commitment to honesty, I feel these things must be aired. Frankly I’m glad to have gotten them off my chest, and I can only hope the British public will see these trivialities for what they are and vote for what they know is right.”
As he left the stage in silence, the audience not applauding, he wondered if he had overdone it.
Two days later, Frederick Dunmere became the Prime Minister of Great Britain.
“Run that by me again,” he said.
“You won,” said Volger, leaning on the desk, his smile tight and forced. “Landslide.”
“But I thought I killed myself up there.”
“So did I. So did a lot of people. But the reactions of the general public have been impossible to predict since the death machines started messing with their heads, and even more so since the voting age was lowered to 14. You of all people should know that, now you’re the youngest Prime Minister in British history.”
“But…I told everyone about my death. I told them I was going to…”
“Yes, Fred, and I’m telling you that no one seems to care. Probably because you, yourself, are still technically a minor.”
“I turn 18 in a month,” argued Dunmere sulkily.
Volger consulted the papers in his hands. “You already had the teenage vote, of course. The adults, well…half of them didn’t trust you because you were clammed up on the death note thing, and the other half didn’t think you were mature enough for the position. That interview pretty much made all of them about-face.”
Volger injected that fatherly tone into his voice again. “They were impressed by the way you confronted your past like that. The whole stuff with your father. Seen the papers? They’re saying how that one event combined with the knowledge of your future is what sparked your unstoppable drive, what made you become an MP at 14. It’s an inspiring story.”
“No,” wailed Dunmere, clasping his hands to his face. “I wanted to fail. I don’t want to be Prime Minister. I don’t deserve to run the country.”
Volger sniffed with disapproval. “Maybe, but you were elected anyway,” he said, dropping his papers on the desk with a loud slap. “So maybe it’s the country that deserves you.”