For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #189, based on the image above from shutterstock. But beware; this is longer than my usual responses, at a little over 1,000 words. Firefox says 6-8 minutes.
Sir Robert slouched back in his executive chair, exhaling a deep sigh, convinced that this was a younger man’s game. Whilst the department, in particular his indispensable deputy, Charles, had bounced back, day after day, Bob simply felt increasingly exhausted.
It had been tough, this one, last, enormous task. The day before, on the sixty-inch plasma screen fixed to the back wall of his office, the Prime Minister had signed the agreement to end an almost-thirty-year conflict. The jewel in the crown of Bob’s remarkable career.
His stellar ascent had not been without personal consequences. His relationship with Judith, the love of his life, disintegrated because of the Ministry. Paying her far too little attention, Bob was shocked, but not surprised, when she left him for a banker, of all people. But despite enduring fondness, he struggled to stay in touch. Even when she was widowed last year, it had been an effort, especially with work persistently consuming his time. What to write, after this long? He ended up writing nothing. And the more he ruminated, the more awkward it became.
He could have joined them yesterday, could have witnessed in person something that was largely his handiwork. But no. This was their day. The politicians. Always one to shun the limelight, Bob let them have their day in the sun. Besides, having seen them first-hand, he was cynical.
A sharp rap interrupted his thoughts. For just such occasions, he had learned to stash a compact mirror in his desk. Noting the tired old man staring back at him, he straightened his Jermyn Street silk tie, and ruffling his now-fully-grey hair, he would have to do.
“Come”, he beckoned. His smart, leather-padded door, as weary as he, inched open. Charles.
“Morning, Sir Robert.” Stuffily formal.
“Hey, Charlie, how was Belfast? I caught you on the News last night…” – Charles had represented the department in Bob’s place – “… looking incredibly dapper, I might add”. Sir Robert’s greatest gift in life had been his ability to flatter, and though in his fifties, the younger man blushed, closing the door and recalling the reason for his intrusion.
“Thanks, Bob. You know… none of this could have happened without you, don’t you? Twenty Eight years. Everybody knows where the credit lies. On that note, we just had a memo from No 10. Our beloved Prime Minister will be popping over in person to express his thanks, just after twelve”.
Bob was dismissive. The Prime Minister? Machiavelli’s own brother? Grateful, for once? He must have been briefed! He, too, was a people person, never more at home than kissing wailing babies. The men’s similarities had continued, for both possessed those skills necessary to climb to the top. It’s just that, while the Prime Minister’s forte was to woo gullible voters, Bob’s were more… tangible.
True, the PM was elected with a poor reputation. Lacking anywhere near the intelligence to grasp the finer details, the attention span of a gnat, but Bob had given the benefit of the doubt. He had, after all, convinced his fellow MPs – themselves, not stupid people – that he was the right man for the job. But seeing this indifferent climber up close during the negotiations, Bob had concluded that the critics had been correct. Indiscreet, yes, but correct, all the same. The PM had only shown any real interest in the negotiations once he sniffed a place in history.
“The PM, eh?” He flew back last night, on the same RAF flight as Charles. “You’d better make the most of this, Charlie-boy, it’ll never happen again.” In this company, he could be candid. His proudest legacy was that Charles would be an able successor.
Detecting Sir Robert’s sarcasm, Charles reinforced. “Seriously, Bob, this is without doubt our biggest coup in living memory, and it’s mostly thanks to you. You have no idea how big a hole you’ll leave once you finally retire.”
“Twenty Eight years”, retorted Bob, “and that buffoon will take all the credit”. He forgave himself this last slip. It hardly mattered, now. “I’m afraid I’ve created a shedload of work for you, though, Charlie. You’ll need to keep a close eye on them. I’m far from convinced that any of them, their side or ours, even want peace. It’s defeated far better leaders than these, after all. Even now, they’re both paranoid for their personal reputations. Doing me a sodding favour. I tell you, I just feel relieved. It is definitely my time to bow out. But you’ll have your work cut out to remind these shysters that they both made commitments yesterday.”
The PM arrived a fashionable fifteen minutes late. Flanked by four aides, one of them at least with the courtesy to knock on Bob’s already open door, the party swept into his office.
Standing from his desk, Bob moved to greet them. “Prime Minister. How kind of you to drop in. Pleasant trip?”
“Thank you, Sir Robert.” The men shook hands. “I’m sorry we’re late. Chancellor.” No further explanation was forthcoming. “Yes, extremely productive, thanks. Always good to get back to Westminster, though. The engine room”, he grinned, in a tone which suggested that his visit had been far from enjoyable. “I wanted to thank you personally for your groundwork on this. We finally cracked it!”
Engine room. Groundwork. Bob loved this man.
“Thank you, Prime Minister”, he smiled. While he had his ear, Bob continued. “But it was a team effort, you understand. We’re lucky to have such dedicated peo…”
The PM cut him off. As if following an autocue, he continued. “We’ll be sorry to lose you, you know. Remind me, when do you finish?” He obviously had been briefed!
“I retire next week, Prime Minister. My last day is Friday. But you’ve met Charles. I’ll be passing the baton into his more-than-capable hands.”
“Looking forward to a well deserved break, eh?” The PM clearly wasn’t listening. “Any immediate plans?”
“I shall stay for a fortnight with my sister over in Hereford, sir. There are some wonderful old country churches round about…”
The PM’s lacklustre expression changed to surprise, as he cocked an eyebrow. Maybe he was listening, after all?
“I plan on solitude. And…”, added Robert philosophically, “… I hope to catch up with an old friend”.