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Red Right Hand

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The trick is not letting on that he knows; Malcolm knows that, like every good dog. The role settles uneasy about his shoulders as he reads the text again.

He glances across at Jamie, hammering on the phone from his corner, howling happily away at you fucking self-asphyxiating City cunt, if the Party needed fucking donors I’d go out, carve the kidneys out from your wee office rentboys with a blunt spoon and flog them to fucking St. Thomas’ bodysnatchers, wouldn’t I, and clicks his phone screen black.

Mycroft Holmes is prepared to acknowledge that Malcolm Tucker is very clever, too, though the realisation is old and tame as the metre of ancient carpet between their chairs.

He’s gleaned this Absolute Truth from Tucker’s silence, rather than the irritable darting he does in the corners of television screens and the sustained high-velocity Scottish roaring he’s rumoured to do behind every camera. The PM’s undertaker has come neatly turned out, gaunt and sleek in a thousand pound coat and, today, utterly without a politician’s unawareness of how to wear a shirt. Everything about him is new as his shining turncoat halfway red party and objectively very dangerous. Already he knows not to shake Mycroft’s hand.

So you’re Westminster, like he’s imagined the place into existence – so you’re all the rest – this is enough.

This particular London club has existed in several half-familiar incarnations for a little over six centuries, from when Westminster was its own city split by roads, bare-packed earth, and royal prerogative rather than theirs. Mycroft Holmes sits back in his gilt chair taken from a minor court in the Punjab and says, I may have a job for you.

Tucker touches his tongue to the corner of his lips, slow. No offence meant, Mr Holmes – you’re not the black dog I had in mind when I told my baby sister I was thinking of going into government.

It’s all right, Mycroft says smoothly, setting his paper aside as an afterthought. He’s reading the fucking Times of India like he’s printed it himself, this morning, careful white sheets in Delhi, and despite the Armani and his clever clever lean face and all glorious Whitehall humming black and hot up through the cobbles half a mile south Malcolm Tucker in his shark killer shoes does not belong to anything in this still little room. I don’t mean to headhunt – I’m keen to avoid giving you or anyone else that sort of impression. You’re hardly qualified.

Yeah, well. He shifts in his seat and there’s a passing smirk, there. I didn’t fancy my chances for Oxbridge.

I won’t be asking you to kill anyone.

I can recommend a colleague who’ll do it for FA Cup tickets.

They each smile in recognition. Mycroft tells him what he wants, and ten minutes later Malcolm steps out into the roaring living air with Jamie’s cheerful senseless voice rushing into his head, fucking boring posh twat.

Like every good dog, Malcolm will do as he is told. He unclenches his jaw and hunches his shoulders southwards, where killing anyone who looks at him like that twice is perfectly legal.

He’s been in more pressrooms than his wee niece has teeth, but that’s easy. Editors are easy, and if they’re clever they’re a laugh – they’re four years in now, and Malcolm knows how it fucking works.

Magnussen is something else entirely, drifting through the Number 11 flat like he’s lost something vaguely important in the Mariana Trench and will shrivel up and die if he pauses in the water. The PM touches his arm as he goes by, pulls him over for a photo, and his eyes go white and still with the reflected flash. Champagne’s not going to work on this cunt.

Jamie’s watching the crowd as he slides to his party place at Malcolm’s elbow. Hugh Abbot’s trying to pull the PM’s wife, he comments, thumping a beer against Malcolm’s unresponsive arm, and for once Malcolm doesn’t follow as he points with his chin.

There's your fucking headline, he says absently, and goes the other way.

I think we’ve got a mutual friend, he announces, like this is a fucking Bond film, and those shark eyes slide over.

I don’t have many English friends, Magnussen says, peering just so over his spectacles in such a way that says he knows not only how to calculate exactly many years it takes London to sand down the edges of that Gorbals accent but also what Malcolm’s blood type is.

Malcolm sneers, and something sharp taps his jaw again. He’s got something for you worth printing.

If it’s another likely terrorist attack, Mr Tucker, I’m not interested. Those towers came down three months ago yesterday and we’re running out of space for anything not a human interest story about recovering families, pets, that sort of thing.

I'll try not to mention it to the Sun. He says he’ll owe you.

Will he.

Magnussen’s chin tips; his flat eyes widen a little without a fraction of surprise, thin lips softening as they part; owing is owning, and Malcolm dips his head, turning their shoulders close so the bustle and the cocktail fucking waitresses squeeze into nothing.

He doesn’t know about this, Magnussen suggests in a breath, tipping a head to the PM, who’s stood laughing uproariously with a fucking smarmy backbencher who’s been talking a fair bit about war. Malcolm narrows his eyes just slightly at the pair they make.

Well, it’s one of his masters’ voices, to keep Malcolm Tucker so polite, Magnussen says, and smiles as though he's made a very fucking generous remark. Very flattering of him to choose such a high-profile middleman. Very nice. Tell him I’d be happy to have a chat.

For the second time in his short, bloody, and perilous political everything, Malcolm Tucker - furious but clever, clever - holds his tongue, and lets news pass into existence that is other than his. It is, he tells himself later, not worth letting on.