Playing The Game

Entry by: Wren

20th October 2017
The Official Visit

‘I understand you know our honoured guest?’
Elaine had deliberately let slip to her PA that he was an old friend, knowing that the story would circulate the organisation in an hour flat. But the Chairman had waited until the day of the visit before he said anything. The official party was due in five minutes.
‘We were in the same College. I shouldn’t think he remembers me. Twenty years is a long time.’
She wasn’t sure why she was lying. They had been lovers for more than a year. He would remember her alright.
‘Still, it can’t do any harm can it?’
Bernard was an astute chairman. He used his status as a TV boffin to attract funding and publicity for the national charity where Elaine was Chief Executive. He was claiming all the credit for the Prime Minister’s visit, but she couldn’t help wondering if he had accepted the invitation because he wanted to see her again.
‘Ah, here they come,’ said Bernard, as the police out-riders barreled down the traffic-cleared road, with their flashing lights, closed visors and grim faces. The limo followed, sluggish under the weight of armor-plating and bullet-proof glass. The security detail and yet more bikes covered the rear. When they stopped, a Special Branch officer leapt from the front seat to open the rear door and shield the PM from the assassin’s viewfinder. And there he was, smiling and waving. The handsome features coarsened by age, but the azure eyes and gleaming smile were undimmed.
Bernard offered some brief words of welcome and then ushered the PM down the receiving line, as if they were at a wedding.
‘I don’t believe I need introduce our Chief Executive.’
‘Elaine, how wonderful to see you again.’ All that charisma beamed down on her. The firm handshake and a kiss on the cheek. People cheered, the cameras flashed.
‘We’re delighted to welcome you Prime Minister…’
‘Oh. I’m Tim to you Elaine.’ Was that a wink?
But Bernard was bustling him on. The tour of the new facility. The plaque unveiling. He didn’t wince when he sat on his haunches for the photo op with the kids in wheelchairs, subliminally broadcasting his youth. Then he had kind words for the care-warn Mums. Here’s someone who cares, too. After all, the election was in just three weeks.
All of a sudden he was leaving for his next engagement. Was that 30 minutes already? More waves and smiles as he climbed back into the limo. He’d hardly spoken to her.
A tiny harassed young woman had materialised at her elbow. ‘Hello, Mrs. Davidson?’ She blinked at Elaine owlishly through oversized glasses. ‘I’m Mandy, the PM’s Assistant PS.’
‘Oh yes?’ Elaine tried to decipher the initials, but failed.
‘He was wondering if you were free for dinner this evening.’
‘Yes, would seven be convenient?’
‘Seven, yes I suppose…’
‘Good, we’ll send a car.’ Mandy was walking away, tapping at her Blackberry, another box ticked. She stopped and turned back. ‘Oh, and it’s a private visit, not official.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘Oh, you know?’ She waved her hand in Elaine’s general direction. ‘No need to dress up. He’ll probably wear jeans.’ With that, a car whizzed up alongside her and Mandy was gone.
No need to dress up? Of course Elaine had rushed to the shops before they closed.
It was only when she was putting in her earrings that she stopped to consider what he could possibly want. Surely it wasn’t a booty call? Ridiculous. Powerful men have these things arranged for them, don’t they? He wouldn’t get a civil servant to procure an old flame, the wrong side of forty. Still, as she turned in front of the bedroom mirror, she worried that the dress looked shorter and tighter than it had in the shop.
A disappointingly ordinary saloon slid to a halt at the end of the drive. The driver wore an ordinary suit, not a chauffeur’s uniform with a peaked cap.
‘How did you know where I lived?’ Perhaps they had a file on her. She imagined all Tim’s exes lined up in manilla folders.
‘No idea Ma’am, I just go where they tell me.’ Ma’am? Jesus, he made her sound like the Queen.
‘We’re using the service entrance, I’m afraid. Security.’ Now she felt even more like a hooker. But they used the regular lifts, not the service elevator. The Special Branch man on the door had an ear-piece like they do in the films, but he didn’t whisper into his cuff as he opened the door for her. Tim had a mobile to his ear as she walked in. The statesman in action.
‘Yes Helmut, I understand.’ He smiled and winked at her, gesturing for her to sit on the sofa in the vast hotel suite. A stunning vista of the city was visible through the windows behind him. Mandy knew her master, he was wearing jeans and an open-necked white shirt.
‘We’ll sort it out in Davos.’ He plucked a bottle of wine from an ice bucket and filled her glass with Chablis. Had he remembered or was that in the file too?
‘Auf Wiedersehen, Helmut!’ he said before throwing the handset on the coffee table and leaning in to kiss her cheek. ‘Sorry about that,’ he said as he sat in the armchair next to her, ‘I’ve told them to hold all calls.’
‘I don’t know how you stand it. You must be in constant demand?’
‘Oh I am. But you can’t let it get to you. You learn to say “no” very quickly. To sort out what you can delegate. I have a great team behind me.’ A politician’s answer.
‘And yet you found time for me.’
‘That’s part of staying sane. Finding time for old friends and family – away from the circus.’ Ah yes, the family. The ferociously ambitious Scottish wife, who the tabloids like to caricature as Lady Macbeth. Did Morag let him get away from it all?
‘It’s so good to see you again, Elaine- and to see the impressive work you’re doing. Tell me what’s happening with you.’
‘Why, wasn’t it in your briefing paper?’ The smile left his lips and she could tell that he was hurt. ‘I’m sorry, I was joking. I suppose politicians are always being accused of cynicism?’
‘Yes we are.’ A smile had returned, but more rueful this time. ’Sometimes with good cause.’
‘I’m just wondering what I’m doing here, Tim. I haven’t heard from you in twenty years, then all of a sudden you invite me to a clandestine rendezvous. What’s going on?’
There was a knock at the door.
‘Ah, that’ll be the food. Come in!’ He was on his feet again. A waiter in a white jacket pushed a trolley loaded with silver salvers through the door.
‘You don’t mind eating here do you? We would be on display in the restaurant.’
The waiter set a table in the suite’s bay window, briefly lifting the lids of the salvers to explain each course. After he had gone, Tim held out a chair for her with a flourish.
‘Mad’am, I zink you will find zis seat has ze best view!’ She laughed at the comic French accent. Who would believe that the Prime Minister would act the fool just for her?
They were both famished, and Elaine was on her second helping of crab terrine, before the conversation turned away from the spread in front of them.
‘You were telling me about your family.’ She hadn’t been, of course. She’d been avoiding it.
‘John and I divorced a couple of years ago. You knew John at College, didn’t you? We have a son, Craig.’
‘How old is he? I bet you’re proud of him?’
‘He’s nineteen and I am very proud of him. But he’s had his problems. He was badly upset by the divorce, dropped out of school and fell in with a bad crowd. But things are improving now.’ She took a large gulp of wine. ‘Tim, you haven’t told me what I’m doing here.’
He sighed. ‘You could always read me Elaine. We were talking about the pressures of being a politician earlier.’
‘Well they are always digging around in your past – the press, the opposition, the bloggers. Hoping to find an embarrassing picture, an ill-advised comment or, better still, something sexual.’
‘And they dug up me?’ Elaine couldn’t help laughing, ‘Oh come on Tim. Who cares about an old flame you haven’t seen for twenty years?’
‘They care because you got married three months after we split up and had a baby six months after that.’
‘Stop right there!’ She couldn’t believe her ears. ‘Craig is John’s son, not yours.’
‘Oh Elaine, you don’t know what these people are like. They’ve dug up Craig’s membership of the white supremacist group and his conviction for spraying racist graffiti on that Asian shop. They have pictures. Even you must have seen the resemblance?’
‘But that’s not proof. It’s all circumstantial. It’s John’s name on the birth certificate.’
‘They don’t care about that. They use social media, anonymous tweets and blogs. Mix fact, fiction and innuendo. I’ve kept it out of the mainstream press until now, but it’s going to surface now - because of John.
‘John? John would never do anything to harm Craig.’
‘I’m sure he hasn’t done it deliberately. But after your divorce he got drunk one night and told a friend that he had always known the baby was mine. Now the friend has money problems and thinks the tabloids can solve them.’
St. John. Besotted with her. Offering to bring Craig up as his own, all those years ago. Yes, soft-hearted John would have trusted a friend like that.
‘Elaine, why didn’t you come to me for help, back then?’
He had dumped her the day after his finals. The Party high-flyer, off to London to write speeches for the Home Secretary. By the time Elaine realised she was pregnant, Morag was already installed on his arm, the useful daughter of a Trade Union leader. The last thing he needed was unwelcome baggage.
‘Help? I know what your help would have been.’
Tim held up his hands, ‘I probably deserve that.’ He went into the other room and fetched a sheet of paper. ‘We’ve been asked to comment on this story before it’s published.’
The title alone had her crying, “Is Racist Thug PM’s Love Child?” They had the police mug shots. Craig’s shaved head and insolent sneer.
‘What do you want from me?’
‘John won’t speak to us. A joint statement from you and John confirming Craig is your son would be ideal. But if John won’t help, who better than the mother?’
Of course John won’t help. The lover of truth. What had he said when she confessed the affair?
‘You always have to pay for lies.’ His doe-eyed anguish, like a Baroque Madonna.
‘Will that stop them?’
‘Probably not altogether. We just need to keep a lid on it for three weeks.’
Of course, the penny dropped, the election.
‘I thought you might have better luck with John?’
‘You’re right, ‘I’ll go now,’ she said as she stood up. ‘Best done face to face.’
‘Oh Elaine, I’m so sorry to put you through this. It’s so kind of you.’
But kindness was the last thing on Elaine’s mind. What was it that he had said about bloggers mixing fact and fiction? Well she could do the same. Wouldn’t an exclusive kiss-and-tell story from the mother of the PM’s love-child be better than the circumstantial speculation they had just now? She could spice it up with kinky sex and how he had callously abandoned her. In return, the journalist would have to play down Craig’s conviction. He could give a contrite interview. The foolish prank of a disturbed adolescent from a broken home.
‘You’ll be hearing from me,’ she said and kissed Tim’s cheek.