Another short story written by yours truly. And no, it isn’t based on David Cameron and Nick Clegg.
Smile. Pause for effect. Continue. Sweeping gesture. Glance down, appear modest. Look up, survey audience. Smile again.
Richard Patterson eyed up the assembly, recognising certain discernible faces mixed in with those he should know but their names escaped him. They had important political and media influence; wielding power that could make or break his career. But at this moment they were followers to his cause, ready to listen and ready to act. The pressure was intense and Patterson could feel a film of perspiration building up on his forehead.
Focus on your delivery, remember the gestures.
His routine annoyed him, the set of motions that had been recommended to him by his advisor just struck him as deceiving and fake but his team had insisted. The positive nodding and murmuring coming from the various representatives in the auditorium forced Patterson to reluctantly agree it had worked. And with several cameras training their beady eye on him, he knew he had to be perfect for the unseen viewers; the prime minister, the home secretary and other dignitaries that were curious about what this so-called visionary had to say.
Gesture. Frown. Scan room. Make light joke. Pause. Conclude. Signal finish.
Patterson smiled again, this time unscripted, as the audience applauded him off the stage. He gave one quick wave before darting behind the curtains, still aware of the clapping that continued on. He reached his dressing room and sat down heavily on the sofa. Although he had only been talking for an hour or so, it had felt so much longer.
A gentle knock came on the door before the person opened it and entered. Patterson didn’t look up, knowing it was his P.R.
“Well done Sir, that went better than we could have even imagined” Stroud said. Patterson nodded, reaching for the glass of whisky that had been prepared for him. He took a long sip, watching Stroud over his glass.
Daniel Stroud stood awkwardly, clasping his hands in front of him as he waited for a response. His lean gangly figure looked out-of-place in the small room, as if he had made a wrong turn and was supposed to be somewhere else. His uncomfortable appearance was deceptive however and behind that face of anxiety was a young man fully capable of manipulating even the most senior political figure. Patterson may have not agreed with his methods but he certainly respected Stroud for his results.
“You will have to give a briefing to the press but I’ve managed to delay that until later this afternoon. After that it’s just a case of waiting to see how they respond to what you have said. Obviously the whole room were behind you but it’ll take a few days before we get anything from the PM or the public’ Stroud continued, shifting his weight between his feet. Patterson gestured towards a chair. The young man perched on the end, illustrating how his nervousness was a permanent characteristic.
Patterson glanced towards the mirror, his mood sinking at his appearance. When he began his campaign, he had been a young man with ambitions. He wanted to change Britain, and with his ideas, he believed he could. But the stress and strain of pushing through the bureaucratic tape which halted his every move had taken its toll. The mirror showed a face completely different to the one that had emerged in politics just over ten years ago.
The wrinkles around his eyes and forehead belied his age of 35, giving the impression of someone in their late forties at best. Even his thick black hair was beginning to grey around the temple. The make-up that had been applied before his speech may have worked to hide his exhaustion from his audience but he could see behind the mask. The twinkle in his bright blue eyes was even starting to diminish. However, Patterson mused humourlessly, that was down to more than just stress.
“Is something the matter Sir?” Stroud asked, disrupting Patterson’s thoughts. He realised they had sat in silence for several minutes.
“No, everything is fine” he lied, fixing one of his television smiles upon Stroud. The other man returned the gesture, albeit hesitantly.
“You are going to help a lot of people. Those who are against you will eventually realise this is a great opportunity to improve things for everybody” Stroud said. Patterson raised an eyebrow. He contemplated the statement for several seconds whilst taking another sip from his glass. He studied the beautifully formed crystal, feeling a strong temptation to just fling it at the wall.
“Is that so?” He finally said, resisting his desire and placing it on the table.
“Of course. You persuade Parliament to pass this Act and we can fix our society at last”
“Don’t be so naive Stroud. Nothing is just black and white. Although the voices cry out that the country is going to the dogs, they will soon go quiet once a reasonable solution is offered. It will be accused of being repressive and controlling. I believe in it and I believe that it is the best step. But I fear for the repercussions that it will create” Patterson responded.
“What do you think will happen?” Stroud asked, leaning forward slightly in his seat.
“Violence. Probably riots. We would be foolish to think that there wouldn’t be any problems. How would you take this decision if you were in their position? This scheme will take them away from their homes and their lifestyle and throw them in at the deep end. In the long run they will benefit. Society will benefit. But if Parliament were to make an immediate decision they would react badly”.
Patterson paused, temporarily distracted. He looked absent-mindedly at his hands before continuing.
“It is frustrating that I cannot explain to them clearly why it is a positive step for everybody. All they see are ideas that are going to cause more problems for them. First the economic downturn has hit them, making life incredibly difficult. Then I come along with this radical idea that will essentially steal whatever meager possessions they have left . It’s understandable that they feel this way. It is imperative that we slowly introduce them to this scheme so that they can adapt. Otherwise it’ll be a total disaster. ”
Patterson finished, slumping back in his seat. The build up of stress felt like it had been relieved somewhat and now he could see Stroud trying to get to grips with the doubts that had troubled him for months.
“So what are you going to do?” the younger man enquired, his gaze fixated on Patterson. Patterson shrugged.
“Keep going. Go in-depth on my ideas and hope they react well to it. Maybe they will surprise me. Make that press briefing and answer all questions. It’s what they will remember me for, so I have to try my best to make it work”. Stroud frowned, watching as his senior stared blankly at the floor. Stroud massaged his neck with one hand, trying to process the last few minutes.
He had met the politician at a dinner party in London years ago. They shook hands and conversed. Stroud had been impressed with Patterson’s ideas and his resolute determination to reach the top. Patterson had been equally taken of Stroud’s own skills and they had decided to work together to achieve their mutual goal of reaching the top.
They had kept their relationship professional and at times Stroud felt the older man disliked him. But despite this Stroud considered himself to be more than an advisor to Patterson; he also believed he was someone the man could trust.
Consequently Patterson’s sudden negative admission and apparent resignation of his plans worried Stroud immensely. What had made him complete such a turnaround when before his convictions appeared to be so deep? And now that he looked at him, there was something in the older man’s eyes that wasn’t so visible before. A dark look that the facade he displayed to the public couldn’t quite hide.
What could Stroud say to convince him that he shouldn’t give up?
Several seconds passed.
“You always knew there may have been problems that such a proposition would incur and you would have given up on it if you truly believed that it wasn’t worth attempting. But you’ve stuck with it regardless because you know it’s the best option that we have. People will come round, and once they do, you will be hailed for improving our society. You’ll be recognised as one the best politicians of our era”
Stroud studying Patterson, hoping he sounded sincere. He waited for the politician’s response, hoping the words had its desired effect. The older man remained motionless, his eyes locked onto Stroud. He looked sunken, his broad shoulders still bowed in defeat. He took a last gulp of the whisky before getting slowly to his feet.
“Get the car ready. I want to go home and get freshened up before this press briefing” Patterson ordered, grabbing his suit jacket and putting it on.
“Yes sir” Stroud nodded. He moved to the phone to contact the driver. Patterson had picked up a newspaper and was skimming the pages but his anxiety was clear from the way he tapped his foot and rustled the paper. The confident nature from his earlier presentation was long gone. Stroud knew there was something else to it, but he wasn’t able to work it out.
In the car, Patterson kept his eyes firmly gazed out the window, his thoughts lost to the fields and hedges that they passed on their way to Patterson’s home. Stroud had tried several times to encourage conversation out of the man but to no avail as he just ignored him or gave monosyllabic answers.
Finally the older man coughed loudly and halted the driver just before he turned onto the drive that wound its way towards Patterson’s home. From the car only the roof of the restored farmhouse was visible through the thick trees. The politician pulled himself out the car, offering a quick glance to Stroud who watched him apprehensively from his seat.
“I’ll see you later. Come pick me up in a couple of hours” he said emotionlessly, closing the door before Stroud could respond.
Patterson strode down the gravel, his eyes fixed dead ahead. He was half aware of the silence that emanated throughout the grounds of his home, with only the crunch of his shoes against the small stones breaking the imposing atmosphere. The hairs rose on his neck as he walked, an electric feeling firing itself through his spine as if warning him that something was wrong.
Patterson rounded the corner, the house finally in sight. He squinted, seeing something red on the door. His heart sank, his body feeling limp and heavy. Gulping loudly the politician kept walking, forcing his legs onwards even though every fibre in his body wanted him to turn and run.
The body of a fox was left lying on the step without a head. Blood seeped from its wound across the gravel, trickling away in several rivulets, spreading its way across the drive. Whoever had killed the fox had then pinned the head to the doorknob. Underneath the head a message had been smeared, a clear warning for him to see. The words were dark red, the thick scrawl imprinting their hatred in Patterson’s memory.
He backed away from the scene, bile creeping its way up his throat. He hunched over, thoughts swarming his mind. Patterson didn’t know who had done it, but he guessed it was the same person who had sent the threatening letters in the post. The same person who had forced his hand and made him move his wife and children while he carried on alone. The same person who had taken the strength and energy from a man who only wanted to help the people who fought so bitterly against him.
You wonder what has made me lose my conviction to the cause Stroud. If only you knew the truth.