For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #144, where we write about the image below from Ross Sneddon at Unsplash.
The extra-hot latte was welcome, warming Neil’s chapped hands, as he entered the shop from the cold February outdoors. He’d seen a flicker of recognition in the barista’s eyes as he’d ordered his coffee and a muffin, but then saw the dismissal as the girl couldn’t quite place him.
Not surprising, concluded Neil, for although his star was rapidly ascending, he was not yet well-known outside of political circles. Discounting the initial interest as a coincidence, he found a vacant table in the corner, and sat down. He was nowhere near warm enough to remove his thick woolen overcoat, so had to push his sleeve up to look at his watch.
I hope Fariq won’t be long, he thought, for although he was not far from his eventual destination, he did not like to be kept waiting.
He lifted the lemon-drizzle flavored cake and paused reverentially, took a deep sniff then, with a small grunt of approval, taking his first bite. For what we are about to do… He deserved this.
Neil was just brushing the crumbs from his Givenchy suit, when a hand tapped his shoulder.
“Mr F!”, he greeted with false bonhomie, standing and turning at the same time. He motioned for the elegant, well-dressed man to join him.
“I can’t stay long,” mumbled the middle-aged Fariq. “The ambassador wants to see me, he needs me back at the embassy by one.”
“No, I can’t stay long, either. The Headmaster…” – his favored nickname for the Leader of the Opposition – “… wants to see me for something, and I need to be in the house later this evening. And before all that”, he added, “I need to do some bloody TV piece for a broadcast we have coming up.”
At that, Fariq raised a thick, black eyebrow, but refrained from passing comment. He was not really interested in what the politician was doing, in any case. He moved the conversation on. “So, Mr.”, then stopped himself. They needed to be careful not to use names in public places. “So, you know what we expect of you?”
“Of course”, replied Neil. “I’m all prepared for the debate next Tuesday. You just need to send the text of the question to me.” He added gingerly, “And do you have what’s… He coughed discreetly. “… er,… expected from you?”
With that, Fariq slipped a hand into his jacket and pushed something under the table, where Neil’s grateful hand was waiting. In an instant, the package was safely inside Neil’s pocket.
Fariq immediately stood and left the shop, leaving Neil to finish his drink. A few minutes later, Neil looked at his watch. Ten minutes, but he was only around the corner.
As he, too, left the shop, he could not resist a quick glance, and pulled a brown envelope an inch out of his pocket. He immediately recognized a bundle of banknotes, before returning the package quickly and resuming his walk to the studio.
He saw the usual suspects. There was Glenda, the party’s Head of Communications, clearly relieved.
“You cut that fine.”
“I told you I’d be here. I just had some business to take care of first. Now, I need to see the Headmaster at 2, so can we make this quick?”
And fifteen minutes later, Neil, freshly brushed and made up, entered the studio.
“Once again”, he read from the autocue, “we find the government unable to get on with the serious task of running the country, because, once again, its ministers have been involved in sleaze…”.