Malcolm Tucker looked up at the BBC offices with trepidation. This was not what he’d planned on doing today. Or ever, really. Fucking BBC.
Then again, he hadn’t planned to fucking resign three weeks ago either. Although, he was still waiting for that particular mountain of shit to hit the fan.
But for now, if he spent one more fucking day watching shitty daytime telly, he was going to lose his mind completely. And given the other suggestions he’d gotten, this was—unfortunately—his best bet at the moment. With that in mind, he took a last drag from a half-smoked cigarette before dropping it and grinding it out, rolling his shoulders as he walked into what he fondly called Satan’s Journalistic Love Nest.
“Sarah Jennings,” a tall, pretty blonde introduced herself as he stepped into one of the office suites, shaking his hand. “Welcome to the BBC. Did you have any trouble getting here?”
“No,” he said, stepping back as she released him to put his hands back in his pockets. He was fucking nervous. At the fucking BBC. What the fuck sort of parallel world was this? “I had trouble getting in,” he quipped, trying to regain his footing. “They thought I was a terrorist.”
She managed a pandering laugh that made him feel incredibly old, and directed him into one of the offices where an aid was already waiting.
“If you’d like to take a seat down there,” Sarah said, directing him to a sofa. “So, we’re really very excited.”
“Yeah, this could be the highlight of my career,” he said, giving a small smile. “And I’ve taken a dump in the White House.”
“See, that’s great banter,” Sarah said. “That’s exactly what we’re looking for.”
“Is it?” he asked, genuinely baffled as he glanced between her and the aid, his bad feeling worsening. He was not a media personality. He was the thing hiding under the bed of media personalities.
“So, this pitch,” she continued, nodding, “it’s for the sort of person who tried coke once, but didn’t like it. It’s a BBC Three show, yeah? It’s a bullshit description, but, you know, it paints a picture.”
“Who didn’t like coke?” he joked, glancing between them again.
Sarah gave another polite chuckle. “Yeah, so the idea is you’re going to be talking to other people who, like you, have been through the shit. For this, I was thinking Brian Keenan. Uh, Kerry Katona…”
Just as he felt his brain begin to suffocate from even the prospect of this gig, his earpods crackled to life and he winced. He’s never liked them, but Annie bought them for him, saying no one used phones anymore.
“Call from. Peter. Tyler. Vitex Corporation.”
He frowned, trying to figure out why the billionaire would personally be calling him. But regardless of the reason, it was a fucking godsend as he quickly excused himself to take the call, already knowing there was no way in fucking hell he’d be back.
“Malcolm Tucker,” he answered, touching one of the earpods as he entered the hall again.
“Mister Tucker! Pete Tyler.”
“Yeah, I know.” He rolled his eyes as he started down the stairs. “Earpods.”
“Right, right,” Tyler said. “Still getting used to them. Wife forced them on me, you know how that is.”
Malcolm snorted. It’d been a long time since he knew that particular torture, but he could still commiserate. “What can I do for you, Mister Tyler?”
“Pete, please,” Mister Pete ‘please-look-at-all-my-fucking-money-stacks’ insisted. “Thing is…I saw that you were recently…unemployed.”
“All of fucking Britain saw that,” Malcolm reminded him as he exited the building. “Media loves the fall of a king.”
“Right, well…I was wondering if I might be able to persuade you to come work for me.”
“What for?” Malcolm asked, debating another smoke. Better not—habits were a nasty thing.
“We haven’t gotten the best press lately,” Tyler explained. “Thought it might be a good idea if I got a spin doctor of my own. And you, Mister Tucker, are the best.”
“Fucking right I am.” He got in his car and turned over the engine, mulling the idea over. It might be nice to do something without having to kiss the President’s arrogant arse all the time.
“Think it over,” Tyler said. “Give me a call when you decide. Oh, and Tucker?”
“I’m a man who’s willing to pay for the best,” Tyler informed him. “Far better than any government job will get you.”
Malcolm’s eyes narrowed as Tyler clicked off. He pressed another button on his earpod.
“Call Annalise Pearson.”
“Have you called for help hiding the bodies?” his sister asked as she answered.
“Surprisingly, no,” he told her as he pulled out onto the street. “The BBC remains unscathed and unbloodied.”
“You must have gotten interrupted.”
“Actually, yeah,” he said. “You’ll never guess by who.”
“She’s been dead for ten years.”
“All the more of a surprise, I’d think.”
“You’re fucking hilarious,” he told her. “But no, someone alive. Peter Tyler.”
“The Vitex guy?” she asked, the surprise evident in her voice. He hummed an assent. “What’d he want?”
“To offer me a fucking job, apparently,” he explained slowly. “Seems news of my ‘resignation’ has spread.”
“Oh, do you think?” Annie snorted. “I think there might have been a few people who were blind and deaf who missed the news. So, are you gonna take it?”
“Don’t know,” he said.
“You can’t keep stirring the pot from the sidelines,” Annie said.
“That was a fucking disaster of a metaphor, you know that?”
“Fuck you,” she said, but she was laughing. “You know what I mean. You know they’re gonna fall apart without you there, they don’t need help with that. And you’re gonna lose it if you don’t do something soon. And—you know—”
“A job at Vitex might not be so bad,” she mused. “Definitely less stress than the political fuckery. You might actually make it to retirement.”
“I’m healthy as a fucking horse.”
“You’re also fifty,” she reminded him, and he pulled a face. “Speaking of which, it’s been a month, and we’re still waiting on a birthday dinner with you. Although, I had to free Nate’s birthday gift.”
“I don’t want to fucking know,” he muttered, then sighed. “Yeah, alright, this weekend, yeah?”
“That’s another thing—weekends. You might actually, you know, have them again,” she pointed out. “It’d be nice to have you around more. The kids would love it.”
“Your kids are two and four,” he reminded her. “They don’t give a shit whether I’m around.”
“You know that’s not true,” she said. “And even if it were…I give a shit.”
“No no no no,” he said quickly. “Don’t do that, Annie. Don’t you dare fucking—”
“I miss you, Mal,” she went on, and he dropped his head to the steering wheel at a traffic stop. “It’d be nice to see you in a regular job, with real hours, so we could actually see each other a bit more often than me getting penciled in every few months.”
“You know you’re the only one who fucking gets away with that,” he muttered as he straightened. “That fucking guilt trip shit.”
“Yes,” she said, and he could hear the smile in her voice as he pulled up to his flat. He groaned, running a hand over his face.
“I’ll think about it,” he promised.
“Alright,” she said. “Shit, gotta run, Julie just woke up. Call me later. And Mal?”
“Love you, you wanker,” she said. “Eat. Sleep. Don’t die.”
“You too,” he said, smiling faintly at her usual warnings. “You know, I’ll just keep in mind that…the sun’ll come out—”
“Don’t you dare.”
“Tomorrow,” he finished with a grin. “In fact, I’d bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow—”
“I hate you,” she said, and he laughed at the unmistakable click of a dead line.
He knew she had a point—he wasn’t getting any fucking younger, and had already been told that he’d become a ticking time bomb if he didn’t lower his stress—but he’d been working for the party so long. And it wasn’t even like he’d gotten the fucking respect he deserved…he’d lost…to Steve fucking Fleming! How was he supposed to just let that fucking lie?
But he definitely wasn’t going to the fucking BBC.
He was still debating his options a few hours later, bumming on the sofa with a bowl of crisps. He chucked a few at the telly when some commenter came on to give his opinion on the resignation of the legendary spin doctor.
He winced when his earpods announced a call from Julius, though he couldn’t say if it was because of them or the caller.
"Hello, Philip Schofield," he said as he pressed the button in his earpod. “I fuck lobsters for money.”
"Ah, Malcolm," Julius’ voice came through. "I was wondering if I could interest you in a little tête-a-tête here at Number Ten."
"And why the fuck would I want to do that?" he asked.
"I wanted to discuss a topic that may be of some interest to you,” Julius said.
“No, Julius, I can’t tell you how to grow hair like mine,” he replied. “As much as it would cut my sunglasses budget to stop the glare from your head, some people just have the fucking genes, you know?”
“That’s…aha, that’s very funny, Malc,” Julius said, and Malcolm arched an eyebrow. He must be desperate. “But no, there was another…conversation I wanted to have. Tell you what, we can have lunch. I’ll buy.”
Malcolm scrubbed a hand down his face wearily. “Yeah, alright, fine. I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”
Julius was waiting for him when Malcolm got to Number Ten, and Malcolm was equally annoyed and curious at the trouble Julius was going to for security clearance for him. He shouldn’t have to sign for a fucking guest badge.
Julius led him to an office (The Cheese Office, Malcolm and Jamie called it, especially when Julius was around to hear it), where he already had lunch waiting. Julius fussed with the food for a few moments before Malcolm waved him off to serve himself, eager to get whatever the fuck this was over with.
“I want you to be very clear, Malc,” Julius said, “about why it is that I brought you in. Do you know what hat it is that I’m wearing?”
“Is it your baldy swimming cap wig?” Malcolm suggested, because ‘arrogant fuckwit’ was too easy.
“No,” Julius said, not rising to the bait. “It is my government troubleshooter stetson, which is a long way from my homburg of sober enquiry.”
“Do you know that I’m thinking about doing a television programme?” he asked, apropos to nothing.
“Well, I had heard something on the grapevine,” Julius said, struggling to keep up with the non-sequitur.
“Yeah, it’s good,” he went on, inwardly delighting as Julius began to squirm. “You know that programme, Civilisation, with Kenneth Clarke? It’s going to be like that except with fucking more quim, you know? It’s me, Simon Schama and Alan Yentob in a cage, fucking lump hammer each, whacking the shit out of each other. The last man standing wins a fucking Ford Focus.”
“The thing is, Malcolm,” Julius cut in, attempting to take control of the conversation once more. “Your departure has basically precipitated a call-to-arms, in effect. We have it on reasonably good authority that there are between three to four cabinet members who are disgruntled and are planning a mass resignation. And that means, very simply, a Dan Miller coronation. And as my nephew would say, ‘This shit just got real.’”
"Your nephew?” Malcolm asked, Nathan’s face swimming to his mind. Annie had been kind enough not to mention the fact that although they’d been waiting a month for his birthday dinner, it had been probably closer to six since he’d been able to find time to see them apart from a lunch or two that he’d had to leave early.
“Anyway, the fact is it has to be stopped,” Julius was saying, and Malcolm forced himself to focus back on the conversation. “Um, there have been a number of ideas being tossed around. And one of them is ‘would you be prepared to come back?’” He avoided Malcolm’s eyes, quickly eating a few bites of his rice. He obviously didn’t have faith in his own proposal, otherwise he’d be making eye contact; his entire body language radiated an attempt at domination even if his eyes betrayed him.
Malcolm let out a bark of laughter. “Are you out of your tiny, shiny fucking mind?”
“Look, we can do this simply,” Julius told him, reaching for his bag and pulling out a few pens and pencils. His words were direct, firm, and not allowing for interruptions. “Step one: are you interested? Of course you are.” He went on before Malcolm said anything, laying a pen on the table. “Step two: Will you come back? Yes? Superb.” Malcolm raised his eyebrows as a red pencil dropped to the table. “Step three, and this is the important step, will you use your considerable influence to destroy the cabal? Can I drop it down?” He didn’t give time for a response, and released the pen, not bothering to read into Malcolm’s expression. Arrogance; it had always been Julius’ fatal flaw. “Fan-dabi-dozi! Step four: It’s party time. Let’s tool up with basmati rice and Wahey!” He returned to eating, seemingly content with his little… production.
Malcolm stared at him in disbelief. “You’re asking me to come back here and mop up the fucking splatter from my own assassination?”
“You know where the bodies are buried,” Julius said, sitting back with a shrug. “And we’ll just say you’re coming back to advise. It’s election strategy. It’s not a day-to-day government business role.”
“Let me see if I’ve got this straight, you schizo hat fuck,” Malcolm said slowly, laying down his fork and picking up the pens. “First, you give me—me—the fucking sack, in favor of Steve ‘please-kick-my-fucking-teeth-in’ Fleming,” he mused, dropping a pen. “Second, you realize that sacking me undermines your fucking authority to the nth fucking degree, and makes a mess you can’t clean up.” The red pencil dropped. “Third, you call me in here for fucking takeway—not even good takeaway, this is shitty—to beg me to clean it up, because you know I’m the only one who can.” Another pen dropped. If Julius knew what was good for him, he’d be out the door. “Four, you tell me that you’re not even giving me my job back, but some fucking impotent advisory title so that you don’t look like the fucking cock up you are. That about right?” Malcolm twiddled the pen between his fingers for a moment as Julius stared, then snorted and tossed it on the table. “You’re a fucking joke, Julius. You and your ‘report.’ I’m done. Thanks for the shitty lunch, and good luck with all the fucking blood.” He stood, ignoring Julius’ sputters as he walked out the door.
There was a sliver of terror as he left Number Ten at facing the unknown after decades of working himself to the bone for the party, but most of him was breathing easier than he had in years. He grinned at the thought of Julius completely losing his shit, and Steve fucking Fleming scrambling ineffectually to get not even half as much done as Malcolm himself could, and tapped the button on his earpod as he got in his car.
“Call Peter Tyler,” he commanded, starting his car as he waited for the CEO to answer.
“Mister Tucker,” Tyler answered. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“About that job,” Malcolm said, pulling away from Number Ten without a glance back.