Malcolm's schedule is fluid for the most part, allowing for the vagaries of political life and its endless potential for catastrophic fuck-up at extremely short notice. You can't put off the verbal evisceration of a junior minister who develops situational verbal diarrhea in the company of newspaper reporters because your fucking yoga class runs from one-thirty to two. Nevertheless, there are a few things - a very few things - that come nuclear holocaust or rent-boy sex scandal, cannot be rescheduled.
There's the morning briefing with the civil servants (Malcolm wouldn't miss these even if he thought the entire organisation wouldn't fall to useless quivering like leftover jelly at a kid's birthday party without the subtle threat of an iron fist up the arse, as they offer the opportunity for inflicting maximum emotional damage in a conveniently compact timeframe).
There's the daily briefing with the Prime Minister (forty-five minutes of Malcolm's dwindling stress-shortened life-span spent reminding the Prime Minister to pretend to be something approximating a human being, and less a David Icke lizard-alien in an implausible skin).
There is Newsnight (there is always, always fucking Newsnight).
And then there is Mycroft Holmes.
"Hi," Anthea says, without looking up.
"Hi your fucking self," Malcolm spits, slamming the car door shut behind him. "Alright, Jeeves, give the horses a crack of the whip; I'm up to my arse in it, I haven't got time to be picking over Battenburg at the fucking Circus."
"Mm," Anthea says, absently, but Malcolm doesn't give a dry fuck, because by the time the sleek anonymous car starts rolling smoothly away from the press-free back entrance of Number Ten he's as firmly absorbed by his Blackberry as she is by hers. The Secretary of State for the Environment is having a baby, bully for him, shame it's not with his fucking wife. Malcolm's sent four fire-fighting emails to the press and thirteen incendiary texts to the dick-swinging lunatic in question by the time the car eases to a stop.
"Where are we this time?" Malcolm asks, while he puts the finishing touches to a thinly-veiled yet deniable death threat to the editor of The Sun. "Round the back of Battersea fucking Power Station? Tell you what, love, I'd be a bit worried about that Reservoir Dogs streak of his if I were you. Actually, forget that. You're probably the one who buries the fucking bodies."
"He's waiting for you," is all Anthea says, and is also about seventy five per cent of her vocabulary, in Malcolm's experience.
The car is parked outside an elegant terraced house, all pale stone facade and shiny front door with an even shinier plaque next to it: The Diogenes Club.
"Jesus Christ," Malcolm says, hand hovering on the door handle. "Every time you bring me to this fucking place I feel like I've travelled back in fucking time. I thought this sort of bollocks went out with Gladstone."
"He's waiting for you," Anthea says, again.
It's been eleven years since Malcolm Tucker met Mycroft Holmes for the first time, the day after the election victory, and they've both changed in the interim. Malcolm had fewer grey hairs back then and didn't so closely resemble Andy Serkis in a groundbreaking computer-generated performance of a dessicated human turd (Jamie's description, shouted from under the arm of Number Ten's largest security guard after the Great Nutter Purge). Mycroft Holmes presumably hadn't yet discovered the W1 chapter of WeightWatchers and was roughly the size of a water buffalo in enough Saville Row bespoke to marquee a garden party.
"Mister Tucker," Mycroft had said, advancing on Malcolm in the suddenly-small space of his brand new office. "Welcome to government."
"Who the fuck are you?" Malcolm had said.
Mycroft smiled his vague, superior smile - the one that Malcolm would have ample opportunity to know and loathe over the next decade-and-a-bit - and said, "The government."
Mycroft is texting when Malcolm is ushered into the mahogany-lined chamber at the back of the Diogenes Club, where Malcolm can't disturb the ossified semi-corpses in the silent reading rooms to the front. The phone in Mycroft's hand is slim and shiny, nothing that's ever seen the inside of a Carphone Warehouse, and Mycroft regards it with an expression of vague distaste, as though it's caused him personal offence.
"Please excuse me," he says, without looking up, but silkily polite as always. "A small family matter. Do sit down."
"How is Holmes Minor?" Malcolm asks, dropping into a tastefully upholstered armchair opposite Mycroft. "Still mad as a sack of snakes?"
Malcolm met Sherlock Holmes once, by accident. It's not an experience he'd care to repeat. Politics has given him a healthy suspicion of clever bastards; in his experience, there's nobody who can orchestrate as earth-shattering a fuck-up as someone whose IQ looks like a Tetris score.
"Sherlock?" Mycroft looks up, briefly, one eyebrow cocked. "He is, for the moment, manageable. Help yourself to tea. I would offer coffee, but you have already consumed your suggested daily allowance."
"You could chuck a couple of Hobnobs on a plate, you tight bastard," Malcolm complains, pouring himself tea from the porcelain pot and firmly ignoring Mycroft's casual assertion the way he ignores all Mycroft's attempts to read him. "Couple of fucking McVitie's don't fit into your Points Plan?"
"I would have fruit brought in if I thought you'd eat it," Mycroft says. "Your diet is woeful, Malcolm, even by the standards of most people in your line of work."
"Don't worry about me," Malcolm says, over the gilt rim of his teacup. "I'm having politician for supper. Can't vouch for where the dirty cunt's been, but the iron'll do me good."
"Ah, yes, I'm afraid he will have to go," Mycroft says, finally putting the phone down on the polished tabletop. He pours himself a cup of tea, no sugar, a little bit of milk, spoon clinking against wafer-thin china. "Cannibalism is perhaps an extreme solution, but elegant in its finality, I grant."
"Get the fuck on with it," says Malcolm, waving a hand around impatiently. "I'm not here to stick my little finger out and talk about tree-huggers who can't take a train from fucking Westminster to Kidderminster without impregnating someone."
"No," says Mycroft with a frown. He leans back in his chair and crosses his legs, teacup balanced elegantly on the top knee (about five years he's been able to do that; cross his legs at all, that is). "I'm afraid you're not."
Mycroft is as inscrutable as only a man who is the unacknowledged government of Great Britain and Northern Ireland can be. But he tilts his chin up under Malcolm's steady gaze, and Malcolm's no Holmes (thank Christ and all his wee bare-arsed angels) but he's been in politics long enough to catch the clinging scent of catastrophe, like shit to a shoe.
He grins. "You've fucked up."
Mycroft's brows knit together in the disappointment-tinged frown of a disapproving school-master. "Well, really," he says.
"What was it," Malcolm says, warming to his little victory, having long since learned to take them where they come. "Dropped your memory stick on the Tube? Left the nuke codes next to the ketchup dispenser at the fucking Burger King?"
"Schadenfreude," Mycroft sniffs, "is a most unattractive trait."
The phone on the table buzzes twice with a text message, and Mycroft takes the distraction of reaching for it, and it's in that moment - Mycroft's uncharacteristic rudeness in interrupting a meeting for a text without making an apology first - that Malcolm has his premonition, the feeling of seeing a train heading towards him and knowing that every single carriage is packed to bursting with shit.
"Jesus Christ," he says. "This is your fucking brother."
Mycroft watches his fingers travel over the phone's keyboard, as though he hasn't heard Malcolm. That's bullshit. If the Prime Minister farts alone in a closed room at three am on a quiet Tuesday night, Mycroft Holmes hears it.
"If you keep fucking ignoring me," Malcolm says, "I will ram this teapot so far up your arse you'll sneeze Twinings for the rest of your unnatural fucking life."
"I must say, I had always considered profanity to be evidence of nothing more than a paucity of vocabulary and a severe lack of linguistic imagination," says Mycroft. Finished texting, he slips the phone into the inner pocket of his immaculate pale grey jacket and looks at Malcolm. "That is, until I met you."
"Flattery won't keep me from making you spill your guts with a silver fucking spoon," Malcolm says.
Mycroft steeples his long, pale fingers together and frowns slightly. "You will not have heard, I supppose," he begins, "of the Bruce-Partington Plans?"
"No," Malcolm says, but it's immaterial. Any plan-with-a-capital-P cannot be anything other than a PR disaster waiting to happen.
"The particulars are above your clearance, I'm afraid, but the short of it is thhat they are state secrets of the greatest sensitivity. They are also, as of this morning, no longer in our sole posession." Mycroft's brows knit further together. "Naturally we hope to recover them before their loss - or indeed, their existence - can be made known to the press, but I felt it a suitable precaution to make you aware that a situation might arise."
Malcolm absorbs the information silently. Conflicting impulses pass through him, most of them violent, many of them involving the various bits of tea-time paraphernalia on the table and Mycroft Holmes's existing and potential orifices. He could probably get some real damage done before Anthea bursts in and snaps his arms, which also, frankly, sounds like a fucking treat.
Something else nags at him. He clears his throat. "When you say, 'we'," he says, "I'm assuming that's because you're just the kind of pompous fucking gas-bag who uses a royal we."
Mycroft lacks the good grace to even appear uncomfortable. "I have enlisted my brother's help in the affair," he says. He leans forward and begins to pour out a second cup of tea for each of them. "Sherlock lacks patriotic feeling, but I have the utmost faith in his abilities as a detective. Do you read Doctor Watson's blog, Malcolm?"
Malcolm looks at Mycroft and the teacups and thinks about what people always say about deckchairs and the Titanic when disaster comes and they think they're saying something profound about futility. Malcolm's never gone in for that sort of florid bullshit.
"We are all fucking fucked," he says.