It was nearing midnight and the Prime Minister was sitting alone in his office, reading a long memo
That was slipping through his brain without leaving the slightest trace of meaning behind. He was
Waiting for a call from the President of a far distant country, and between wondering when the
Wretched man would telephone, and trying to suppress unpleasant memories of what had been a very
Long, tiring, and difficult week, there was not much space in his head for anything else. The more he
Attempted to focus on the print on the page before him, the more clearly the Prime Minister could see
The gloating face of one of his political opponents. This particular opponent had appeared on the news
That very day, not only to enumerate all the terrible things that had happened in the last week (as
Though anyone needed reminding) but also to explain why each and every one of them was the
The Prime Minister’s pulse quickened at the very thought of these accusations, for they were neither
Fair nor true. How on earth was his government supposed to have stopped that bridge collapsing? It
Was outrageous for anybody to suggest that they were not spending enough on bridges. The bridge
Was fewer than ten years old, and the best experts were at a loss to explain why it had snapped cleanly
In two, sending a dozen cars into the watery depths of the river below. And how dare anyone suggest
That it was lack of policemen that had resulted in those two very nasty and well-publicized murders?
Or that the government should have somehow foreseen the freak hurricane in the West Country that
Had caused so much damage to both people and property? And was it his fault that one of his Junior
Ministers, Herbert Chorley, had chosen this week to act so peculiarly that he was now going to be
Spending a lot more time with his family?
“A grim mood
has gripped the country,” the opponent had concluded, barely concealing his own broad
And unfortunately, this was perfectly true. The Prime Minister felt it himself; people really did seem
More miserable than usual. Even the weather was dismal; all this chilly mist in the middle of July… It
Wasn’t right, it wasn’t normal…
He turned over the second page of the memo, saw how much longer it went on, and gave it up as a bad
Job. Stretching his arms above his head he looked around his office mournfully. It was a handsome
Room, with a fine marble fireplace facing the long sash windows, firmly closed against the
Unseasonable chill. With a slight shiver, the Prime Minister got up and moved over to the window,
Looking out at the thin mist that was pressing itself against the glass. It was then, as he stood with his
Back to the room, that he heard a soft cough behind him.
He froze, nose to nose with his own scared-looking reflection in the dark glass. He knew that cough.
He had heard it before. He turned very slowly to face the empty room. : ¦
“Hello?” he said, trying to sound braver than he felt.