|Image by Krappweis. Edits by me.|
“Of course, sir. We’ve triple checked all of it before we even brought it to you. Loughborough thought it was just rumour but sadly not,” replied the short man standing near the door. He held a bowler hat in one hand, and a battered briefcase in the other.
“So what do we do?” asked the Prime Minister.
“That was rather what we were hoping you might be able to answer, sir,” replied the short man.
“It’s been so long since we had to deal with conspiracies and whatnot. My great-uncle would have known what to do,” said the Prime Minister. He looked up at the portrait of Finnigan Etherington above the fireplace.
“I do not wish to sound trite but unfortunately he is no longer here. We need to know what to do about all of this. I’ve asked Dundridge to come up here to advise.”
“Dundridge? I don’t recognise the name.”
“He’s the Head of the Secret Service, sir. He keeps himself possibly too secret, but if it’s anyone’s job to sort this out, it’s his.” The short man deposited his briefcase on the floor.
A triple knock sounded at the door.
“Come in,” called the Prime Minister.
The door opened, and a tall, thin man entered. He wore a long black trenchcoat and a black fedora.
“Ah, Dundridge! I’ve been explaining the situation to the Prime Minister,” said the short man.
“Damned shame, sir, damned shame. I’ve had men on this for some time now and all they can give me is bad news,” said Dundridge. His voice barely rose above a whisper, and the Prime Minister could see why he’d work so well in the Secret Service.
“So what do I do? Mackleworth here tells me that you’re the man to give advice on this,” said the Prime Minister.
“I’ve got eyes and ears everywhere, sir, and this thing is bigger than we can perhaps realise. I think there’s only one thing you can do.”
“Consult the Shadow Cabinet.”
The Prime Minister gulped at the mention of the name. As far as anyone knew, the Shadow Cabinet had existed long before Parliament – possibly long before the nation itself. No one would dare doubt their loyalty, but they might question their methods.
“I really don’t want to bother them, Dundridge.”
“You might have to, sir.”
“There are reasons we don’t involve the Shadow Cabinet in decisions. Their assistance always comes with a price. Remember what happened to Heartstone?"
The short man shuddered.
“But still, sir, this is bigger than any of us. None of us are equipped to put down a conspiracy of this size. The Shadow Cabinet are, sir,” said Dundridge.
The Prime Minister looked at the reports on his desk and nodded. He didn’t want to admit it, but Dundridge was right. Perhaps their price would be reasonable this time given the severity of the threat.
He left Dundridge and the short man in his office, and made his way through the House of Parliament to an old door at the far end of the building. This part of the House was at least two centuries older than his own wing, and it existed in a twilight of shadow and silence.
The Prime Minister knocked on the door. A few moments passed, and it swung inwards without a creak. He straightened his tie and entered.
He found himself in a large wood-panelled chamber, with ancient tapestries covering the walls, and straw strewn across the stone floor. Fires blazed in iron wall braziers, casting flickering shadows around the room.
“Prime Minister Etherington. I do not think we have seen you for at least a year.” A deep voice sounded from the far end of the room.
The Prime Minister inched into the chamber, until a long table became visible in the low light. Five shadowy figures sat at the table, and the Prime Minister gulped. The Shadow Cabinet was comprised of seven – where were the other two?
“I apologise for my absence, things have been rather hectic.”
“Indeed, and with the current state of affairs I imagine they will only get more hectic.”
“Well that is why I’m here.” The Prime Minister explained everything that he’d been told that morning, though he got the feeling he was telling the Shadow Cabinet things that they already knew.
“This is indeed a difficult situation, Prime Minister, but it is not without resolution in the favour of our great nation,” said the shadow with the deep voice.
“We can solve this problem with little trouble to ourselves.”
“We will name our price when we have solved the problem.”
The Prime Minister frowned. What a risk to take! Would the price be too high? He thought again of the reports on his desk and sighed. He couldn’t solve this himself – there was simply no other way.
“Very well.” He heard himself saying the words before he’d even realised he agreed to their terms.
“Excellent. Expect a resolution within 48 hours.”
The shadow held out its hand, a dark stain against the air around it. The Prime Minister held out his own, and the shake sealed the deal. He withdrew his hand as quickly as he could, eager to get some warmth back into his skin, and he hurried out of the stone room.
As he headed back to his office, he glanced down at his palm. Either some residue had been left by the Chairman of the Shadow Cabinet….or he had blood on his hands.