I woke up the next morning with a cloud hanging over me. One day, I resolved, I was gonna start sleeping indoors. My editor came round the corner and gave me the offer of a cold shower, conveniently delivered in a bucket.
“What the hell?”
“Thank me later hotshot, we got work to do.”
I stood up and wiped the water out my eyes.
“What work? We’re no closer to a name and the election isn’t for days.”
“Oh isn’t it?”
He flashed a newspaper in my face, face front as he kept walking ahead of me.
SEAT VON SCRUTINY CALLS FOR EARLY ELECTION
“Election’s at seven tonight.”
“What time is it now?”
“Why are you such an early riser?”
“You’re going to report on the election, as our democracy reporter.”
He passed a badge behind me. It was coffee stained and read DEMOKRACY REPORTER, beneath HEALTH REPORTER, ROYAL CORRESPONDENT and DEFENDANT LAWYER AT THE HAGUE, which were all crossed out.
“I thought it was Asmaa’s turn to be the democracy reporter.”
“Nah, she had her turn last week. Today she’s the restaurant critic. Tomorrow she’s gonna be our finance and markets correspondent, just as soon as that Forex trader who makes £1000-£2000 a day from their living room gets back to us.”
“What am I up against?”
We rounded the corner. The city was in full swing. The goths and emos were tugging at opposite ends of the last My Chemical Romance t-shirt in the city. There was more scene than goddamn Chekhov would have known what to do with.
“Angry Union, Seat looking strong. Could go either way,” my editor was saying.
“Why did they agree to this?”
“The Student Council wanna get the election out the way as soon as possible so there’s time to do all that other work they do, like… you know… that thing they’re doing.”
“I heard they’re renaming park benches after civil rights activists.”
“Exactly. Once they’ve done that there might even be time to do stuff that matters.”
We left the light outside behind and entered the dingy office. We walked in and I remembered it wasn’t dingy at all, and after I’d finished vomiting, I stood back up. Our typewriters had been replaced by large, thin sandwich presses that glowed on the part you pushed down. Some of the writers were trying to put a tuna melt in one of the things and it snapped in two. A dominatrix was also on a sandwich press, except he was staring intently at the glowy part and tapping on the bottom part. Goes to show how much he knew about journalism.
My editor turned to me.
“Fine. I’m just relieved this is the story.”
“I met the Seat’s attorney last night. He was worried I was gonna start speculating on the front page and he threatened me with something big to stay ahead.”
“Anything about money laundering?”
“What? No. Why?”
“No reason. I hate money laundering. Obviously.”
I shook my head. I knew my editor was a good guy: he’d swear it on his twelve bank accounts in different names. I turned round and went to get changed for the big event.
* * *
There was a thick fog of ego in the chamber that evening, lazy wasps of smoke tumbling over each other at the ceiling. I wondered if the massive cigars we were chomping were helping too.
I’d been to Student Council once before, years ago, back when I worked for a tabloid. Arendt had been there, making a speech advocating that the Council lobby the Bank of England to devolve the power of setting the base rate of interest to regional authorities, and I was there to photograph nip slips.
Looking down at the little paper agenda that had been put on all the chairs, I realised tonight we were in for a similarly explosive evening of student politics. There was a three hour discussion on recycling bins, followed by an open debate on whether cycle lanes are racist. Though far from enamoured with the Council, I had to respect those white, middle class speakers. They always seemed to know what was in ethnic minorities’ best interests, despite never asking one.
The Council had a reputation for being pretentious, but as I thought maybe that was a little unfair, as I watched the Lord Emperor and Regent Monarch of Pupils take his seat. He fussed with his sceptre and ball, and when he was finished, did his flies up. We, of course, had to look the part too, and following a modernisation effort, we had been permitted to wear a modern-style tie instead of a cravat. Some of the members of the chamber didn’t even wear ermine.
There was one person in attendance who didn’t look so fancy. He was huge, and I was trying to remember where I’d seen him before. He could have been at the seminar on how to maintain professional relationships in journalism we’d had last spring, or at the orgy we’d had immediately after.
He made eye contact, and I knew. He was the man who killed the scholar. I stiffened up and started sweating under my two blazers. It was smart casual, so I’d worn one smart and one casual. I really should have put the blazer covered with cartoon marijuana leaves underneath the casual one. I felt like he was seeing under all my layers, and felt the colour drain from my face. I could tell he knew I recognised him. His face twisted into a horrible smirk, and he gave me a wave.
“Let us begin!” the Lord Emperor and Regent Monarch bellowed. I faced front, grateful for the distraction. “As members of the chamber will be aware, we have a packed schedule today. We will be hearing about trade tariffs on caviar and quail’s eggs, and a motion to punish all homelessness with eviction.”
I didn’t fancy Seat Von Scrutiny’s chances against a guy with this much charisma.
“But first,” he said, to enraptured silence, “we shall commence proceedings with the election for Chair of Scrutiny. Why exactly the Council should require scrutiny is beyond me: we are of course members of an incorruptible institution, as Rupert Murdoch and Bernard Madoff said to me during our camping trip. When candidate applications opened, we received word from five hundred staff and students hoping to run in the election, but by a freak accident, all their legs got broken, and so none are able to run.”
“All but one, your excellency!”
Every head in the room turned to the doors at the back. The attorney had walked in, sweat stains beneath each armpit and remnants of what looked like an entire plate of curry and chocolate down his front. The night I met him he’d struck me as a snappy dresser. He started to stride down the room, and pointed a finger square at the Lord Regent as he went.
“There was one candidate too big and too powerful to be scared away by your fear tactics.”
“Fear tactics? They chose of their own volition to not have their toenails ripped off!”
“Regardless,” the attorney reached the podium behind which the Lord Regent perched, before spinning round to face the crowd. He paced as he explained “there is one candidate ready to take on the Student Council. I give you: Seat Von Scrutiny!”
He aimed an open palm at the doors, which creaked open once more. The entire chamber stood up to get a look at who was walking in. I craned my neck, notebook at the ready. Who was it who had divided the city so much in such a short amount of time?
The Von Scrutiny clan had, of course, not been fully chair since the late 18th century. Since Throne Von Scrutiny’s scandalous marriage to a human mistress, half the Von Scrutinies were chairs, and half humans pretending to be chairs. It’s difficult to get your head around chair genetics, until you realise it’s even more difficult to get your head around fucking a chair. As Seat walked in, I saw he was human, and one I’d seen many times before. He was dressed in nothing but a green gimp suit, as Von Scrutiny custom demanded, but with those glasses over the top and the eyes (underneath two conveniently cut holes), it could only be one man.
“It is I!” he exclaimed. “Chris Day!”
The crowd sent up a gasp before descending into chatter.
“Silence!” the Lord Regent shouted, banging a gavel.
The stenographer burst into tears.
“Shut it!” the Lord Regent snapped, banging the gavel on his head a few more times. “Day, you would turn your back on us, who have worked so hard to make sure nothing gets done around here?”
“I would,” he faced the crowd too. “You have all become consumed by greed and jealousy, by sin and temptation. You forget the real reason you are here.”
“Reduce tuition fees?” someone asked, who was promptly taken out and shot.
“You have become engulfed by the fumes of power. You claim to do nothing, but already you are itching in the direction of…” his face curled into something horrible as he found his way round the next word, “opposition. What was the motion passed just last month, about the University making mistakes?”
A clerk handed a piece of paper up to the Lord Regent’s highchair, who took off his bib and put on a monocle. He squinted at the paper.
“It is theoretically possible?” he read.
“Preposterous!” Day returned. “I know the makings of a coup when I see one. You forget who helped the CIA install a dictator in Brazil in 1964, which is definitely just a joke that you should not google. I see the only way to stop you is to take you on myself.”
“You were working on the inside?” someone shouted at the attorney. He looked at me, and I realised I’d shouted it.
“I’m afraid so kid,” he shrugged, leaning against the bench which the Lord Regent’s secretaries were sat behind. “Still, it’ll make for a scoop, eh?”
“What claim do you have to being a Von Scrutiny, Day?”
“Well,” he said, lips pursed, turning back to the Lord Regent. “I suppose I may as well come clean. Day is a corruption of my father’s surname, Deck, which is in turn an abbreviation of his mother’s surname, Deck…” he paused to savour the moment, “seat.”
“Dear God,” the Lord Regent muttered. “Well come on then, make your case.”
“As Chair of Scrutiny,” he began, “I intend to implement a sweeping legislative agenda: more seats in the Union, a slaughter of all animals with fewer than four legs, and a complete ban on pogo sticks. Oh, and the immediate dissolution of Student Council.”
There was uproar. This time round, everyone stood up, except for me. I realised this might be our way out of trouble.
“I also plan to conduct a thorough investigation into the allegations of corporate manslaughter against The Toon Lampoon.”
“What?” I shouted. “No-one could have prevented that lithium mine collapse!”
“Remember what I said,” the attorney fired back. “I promised you your front page.”
I sank back to my chair and realised I was faced between two alternatives, neither of which were particularly optimal. I wished there was an expression for being between a rock and another difficult scenario. Right now, all I had was my way with words.
“Fine, fine,” the Lord Regent spluttered. “We will take a vote, conducted in accordance with the very letter of fairness. All those who are stupid enough to believe that this irrelevant candidate should be elected, say,” and then the Lord Regent said something under his breath. A pause went through the room. “Really, no-one? Well then-”
“Your excellency, please,” the attorney piped up. “Might the ladies and gentlemen…” he scanned the room before starting again, “might the gentlemen of this Council have something a little fairer? An aye and neigh, for example?”
“Fine. If your client insists on democracy, I yield to the PC brigade. Those in favour in Day’s election?”
There was silence. The attorney stuck a finger up.
“If I might remind members of the Council who pays their wages?”
There was a rabble of ‘ayes’. The attorney was good.
“And those against?” the Lord Regent looked around the room, desperation in his eyes. “Anyone? No? Then…” he stopped short, like what he was about to say next was difficult. “Then Chris Day, AKA Chris Deckseat, AKA Seat Von Scrutiny is elected as Chair of Scrutiny.”
“Excellent,” Day said. “Guards, relieve the Lord Regent of his duties.”
Two enormous henchmen approached the bench, and the Lord Regent produced a pistol. He fired once into the crowd and members of the chamber scrambled over each other to avoid being next. Some took out pistols of their own. A few drew knives. As a journalist, I stood for nothing if not doing the right thing and fighting. Unfortunately, I didn’t stand for doing the right thing and fighting, so I stood for nothing.
I crouched on the floor and crawled over the increasing amount of bodies. I heard the life leave men screaming a few feet above me, until I found the doors and fled. Only when I was out the building did I stop running. I turned around and watched as a thin plume of smoke started to leave the Council building. With a whoosh the building went up in flames.
“Things get a little hot under the collar?” a voice behind me asked.
It was Arendt, smoking by a tree with a wry smile. I’d never seen a tree with a wry smile before, but it was a topsy turvy kind of day. She took the cigarette out her mouth and made a little cloud to rival the one in front of us.
“This isn’t the end of things,” I muttered. “With no Student Council, the people who make it out of that building alive are gonna have nothing to lose, except their grudge against us. We took the piss too many times.”
“And your problem has always been too wide a readership.”
One of the many things I respected about Arendt was her ability to be serious.
“What are you gonna do?” she asked.
“Leave. The Lampoon’s finished, we’ve gotta go. Come with us.”
“I don’t know. I know my geography though: Europe’s a big country. We could go to France. You could be the first sex worker in Paris!”
She laughed, which was odd because I hadn’t said anything funny.
“It’s always running, isn’t it?”
“Of course Arendt! We made powerful enemies in those representatives!”
“Representatives?” she stomped out her cigarette and took a few steps until she was next to me. “Do you know what all those men had in common?”
“Obviously, but what else? Liberal, conservative, old, young?”
I was stumped.
“They were all johns, Joe. Men whose fathers weren’t around enough when they were growing up. Men who spent the rest of their lives trying to punch a hole in the universe to force daddy to notice them. They’re always the ones in power, and always the ones who fuck up. I won’t feel represented until I see a council of hookers. Maybe they’d think to tidy up.”
“I wasn’t aware you’d had people from the Council as clients.”
“Oh god no, I was being metaphorical. Hmm-mm,” she shook her head. “Not if they dipped their dicks in bleach and wrapped them in more cling film than a new tattoo,” she pointed. “Look, one’s coming out now.”
A man stumbled out the building, leaving a plume of smoke behind him. He walked like a drunkard towards us, putting his fedora back on his head and packing a few effects into a suitcase. It was the attorney. He stopped by us.
“This is bad,” he said.
“Bad? You won.”
“Won?” he asked, almost shouting. “What do you think happened to Seat in there?”
Something fluttered out the top storey of the window. It was flabby and lifeless, like a balloon with no air in it, or a tabloid newspaper editor. The thing made its slow descent to the ground and landed by our three pairs of feet. It was a green gimp suit, singed at the edges.
“Oh my god,” I said, barely aware I was saying it. “Chris Day is naked?”
“He’s dead Joe,” Arendt said.
“The record’s being amended as we speak,” the attorney said, panting and monotone, “to say Seat lost the election. No Von Scrutiny has ever lost an election, and his family are gonna be pissed. It can’t be the golden boy’s fault, so his family’s gonna be after me.”
“I thought he was a minor offshoot of a minor branch of a minor offshoot.”
“A Von Scrutiny is a Von Scrutiny, even the lesser ones are great. Seat was like JFK!”
“He could have started a dynasty?”
“Oh, that too. I just meant he banged Marilyn Monroe,” he picked up his suitcase. “So I’m sure you’ll understand if I vamoose, before I regret ever being born.”
I looked at Arendt. I remembered that conversation all that time ago, hiding from the rain. It felt it was yesterday, which is because it was.
He stopped and swivelled round.
“Wherever you go, the Von Scrutiny clan will be after you.”
“Uh-huh,” he replied, impatient at my stating the obvious.
“And we’re about to have every former student councillor on our case trying to do us for every possible crime. Not just the fun ones, like libel or contempt of court. Blackmail, extortion, obstructing the course of justice, being from Sunderland, you name it, we’ve got it.”
“I heard something about war crimes in the former Yugoslavia.”
“That one’s a myth,” I said quickly.
“Either way,” a smile spread across the attorney’s face, “sounds like you need a lawyer.”
“We do, especially after another one killed himself this morning. It won’t be as lucrative as politics, but I can promise it’ll never get boring.”
The attorney looked up at the building.
“Mr. Molander, I can believe it,” the attorney stepped closer and shook my hand.
We took a moment to admire the flames.
“Seat told me about you,” the attorney told me. “You were involved with his cousin. Recliner?”
I blushed and stared at my shoes.
“Yes, there was a time where we were…”
“Fucking like rabbits?” Arendt offered.
“Fucking like rabbits.”
“She misses you.”
I looked at the attorney.
“Really?” I asked, agonisingly high pitched.
“Yeah,” he took out a card. “Told me to give you her number.”
I took the card, but found myself unable to look at it. I thought back to our first date to IKEA. It was very forward for a Von Scrutiny, seeing as IKEA is the chair equivalent of an orgy.
Eventually I heard myself say:
“She can keep it.”
I flicked it into the air and the wind carried it onto the blaze. Arendt clapped me on the shoulder.
“Well done Joe,” she said softly.
“Yeah, that wasn’t her number, that was my Visa.”
“Well then,” I began, turning to him. “Guess you really are here for the long term.”
I started laughing, and Arendt sent up a dry chuckle. I started laughing harder and so did Arendt, and eventually the attorney gave in, and we were all laughing. There was the feeling of light-headed renewal in the air. Maybe it was the trees donning their autumn colours, or maybe it was the fumes of burning plastic. Either way, I felt a little lighter. As my editor was fond of saying, there really is no greater thrill than burning sensitive legal documents.