Kiy Uvanov twitched uneasily in his sleep; he was dreaming masked raiders had burst into his bedroom. A chill in the air caused him to stir and reach out for his missing duvet. As he moved, he felt a bracelet fall down his wrist.
Wait a minute - I don’t wear jewellery to bed, thought Uvanov, and sat up in the dark. Feeling his wrists and ankles, he found the bracelets weren’t bracelets, but finely wrought manacles attached to chains. Although he couldn’t make out his surroundings yet, he was in a room devoid of furniture, with a small, barred window at one end and a locked door at the other.
“It wasn’t a dream,” said Uvanov, aloud. His movements caused a lump of something wet and gooey to slide down his face and blob on to his pyjamas, putting his hand to his head he found it was similarly tacky. “It’s my brain! What have they done to me?” Falling forward in despair, his palms fell on a bare, if very sticky, arm and shoulder. “Argh! A body!” Uvanov tried to leap back, but the body moved and caught at the strong chains that linked them together, preventing Uvanov from toppling over backwards.
“It’s me, Iago and it’s not your brain, its black forest gateau.”
Uvanov sat down, relieved the body was alive, which made a change and because shouting on your own wasn’t any fun. Not that his current situation was enjoyable, with or without company.
“Black forest gateau? What’s going on?” said Uvanov.
“We’ve been kidnapped, shackled together and covered in cake.”
“No, really and I thought this was my annual break.”
“We’re not going to be killed.”
“Oh well, that’s a relief,” said Uvanov, sarcastically. “Horrible torture is it?”
“No, it’s worse than that.”
“We have to gnaw off our limbs and fight to the death with chainsaws?”
“What could be worse than the plot of a bad film?” wondered Uvanov.
“It’s a plot designed to humiliate and discredit you, leading to your dismissal from the Board.”
“Being covered in cake is humiliating if you have the intelligence of a teenage prankster, but I don’t see how ruining my pyjamas will get me thrown off the Board.”
“There’ll be photos and compromising positions.”
“Not from me there won’t.”
“You will if a stun-kill is pointed at you,” said Iago.
“There won’t be a tape will there?” said Uvanov, worried.
“Nobody’s that sick.”
“You’re remarkably calm considering you’re going to be in the photos too.”
“My face will be obscured by cream.”
“Incidentally, shouldn’t we both be naked for a compromising photo?”
“I imagine they hadn’t planned further than abducting us and reducing a giant gateau to crumbs. I don’t wear nightclothes. Anyway, I have nothing to be ashamed of - have you?”
Uvanov gave Iago a withering stare. “Other than being chained to my bodyguard…”
“Bodyguard, smeared with cake and waiting for a compromising photo shoot? No, I have nothing, whatsoever, to be ashamed of. Now my eyes are getting used to the light, I can’t look or talk to you in your current state: It's too distracting and ridiculous. Put this quilted blanket on for heaven‘s sake, oh, it’s my housecoat - what considerate kidnappers. Why couldn’t they have assassinated me instead? It’s not as if I have a family I need to spend more time with,” said Uvanov, warming his temper up.
“Try to look on the positive side, Uvanov,” drawled Iago.
“Positive! Positive!” Uvanov jumped up and down in frustration. He wanted to pace the room, but the tangling chains prevented him. So far, he thought he’d kept remarkably calm.
“Relax,” said Iago, from his position on the floor and grabbed a handful of chains to stop the other man’s hopping.
“I don’t appreciate this, Iago,” warned, the now still, Uvanov, before snatching the chains from Iago's grasp.
“There’s no such thing as bad news.”
“You think?” said Uvanov, petulantly.
“The people will see you in a new light. They’re tired of stuffy Firstmasters.”
“Has the cream penetrated your brain? I rely on the votes of stuffy Firstmasters. I didn’t get to be Firstmaster Chairholder of the Company by being cool, popular or remotely likeable, in any shape or form. Do you know I can see a nest of cherries in your hair? Why do you have more gunge on you than me?”
“There wasn‘t an infinite supply of crumbs and the nubile, young accomplices were over enthusiastic in rubbing cake on me. They weren’t as interested in covering you in cream and kirsch.”
“They could have been crusty, wizened, old lepers for all you know.”
“Ah, but I do. I was awake when it happened and as well as writing her contact details on me, one of the girls gave me this.” Iago put a hand into his hair and drew something out between his thumb and forefinger.
Uvanov peered at Iago’s hand in the dim light, as the first rays of the sun filtered through the window. “Nits? Lice? Other less glamorous bodily parasites? You’re not making an ‘and then I popped her cherry’ joke to lighten the mood are you? Because it's not going to work.”
“It’s a hair grip,” said Iago, patiently.
“You hair wasn’t very good before it was covered in cherry jam, Iago.”
Iago gritted his teeth. “I can pick the locks of our chains with it.”
“You can, that’s brilliant! I could kiss you, Iago,” said Uvanov, joyfully. As he went to give Iago a back slap, he slipped in a puddle of melted cream, put out his arms to break his fall and one of his hands landed high up on Iago’s inner thigh.
Iago maintained his cool poise on the outside, but even he had nightmares and he was experiencing a flashback. Iago pushed Uvanov’s hand away. “Now I understand why you were keen for me to cover myself.”
Uvanov folded his arms and gave him a ‘don’t flatter yourself’ look. “I could kiss you, Iago, if the thought wasn’t so disgusting.”
“You can’t deny you wouldn’t enjoy this if I was someone else,” said Iago, clinking his fetters together to emphasize his point, before going to work on the locks. “It’s what you like isn’t it?”
“Like! Like? Do I look like the kind of person who is turned on by cake and chains? Come to think of it, does anyone look the kind?”
“Carnell mentioned it was on the psychological test about your, ah, tastes before you started your first job on a sandminer.”
“All I ever filled in was my name, address and bank account details before I set off on a tour. All the psychological mapping mumbo-jumbo came in years later, for new workers.”
“He was very convincing.”
“He’s been having you on and more importantly me!”
“Don’t you think…” began Iago.
“It’s time to have Carnell killed? Yes!”
“Wasn’t it obvious to you this is the sort of fantasy a member of the Families would have?”
“Not particularly, no.”
“All this cake could have fed all the families, on the street I grew up on, for a week. What a waste. Decadent idiots.”
“You’re nothing like them, of course,” said Iago, drier than the Bleeding Heart Desert, eyeing his employer‘s shimmering, silk pyjamas, with hand-painted panels and gold embroidery.
“I don’t know why I use Carnell, I really don’t. I’ve been told I’m paranoid,” muttered Uvanov to himself, as he waited for Iago to free him. When Iago removed the last manacle, Uvanov leap up, ran to the door and span round to face Iago.
“Come on, Iago, open the door," urged Uvanov.
“There is no lock on this side of the door.”
“Use the wire.”
“It’s a hair grip, not a magic wand.”
“It was hardly worth unchaining us for was it?” said Uvanov, taking his disappointment out on the door with his foot. “Ow! The smell of the bloody cake is making me hungry and I hate cake! I haven’t had it in years.”
Iago raised an eyebrow.
“It reminds me of birthdays. The last time I had cake was when I decided to give up celebrating my birthday. What’s the point of celebrating being one year nearer to death? Besides, I suspected anyone who turned up to a party was after a free feed. I never saw sick-note Arris at any other time of the year.”
“What a poignant tale. As I recall, Justina sent me a memo to remind me your birthday was today.”
“Great and this is how the populace at large will think I spend my birthday: in a dungeon covered in sponge with my housecoat boy.”
“I slipped a card into your gown, yesterday.”
“How nice,” said Uvanov, tonelessly. “I might as well read it. Pass it over. It’s not a picture of a monkey drinking from a wine bottle is it? I hate those and black Valentine cards.”
“It’s an invoice to explain you owe me extra for updating the defences in your mansion.” Iago pulled out the card and an envelope. “Hmm, I didn’t put this in here. It could be an actual birthday card.”
“Hand it over and do please sound as if you could believe someone would want to send me birthday wishes. It is my birthday and I am your boss if you hadn’t forgotten,” said Uvanov, tetchily, and swiped the envelope off Iago, before striding off to stand underneath the small, barred window. Iago followed, curious to find out what the mystery envelope contained.
“It is a birthday card! Dear Uvanov,” Uvanov read, “Happy birthday; it’s not what you think. Is this advising me what to say in a press statement? I hope Iago is OK. Hey, what are you doing in my card? Have a great day, x. Have a great day!”
“It’s the thought that counts,” said Iago.
Uvanov wiped some jam off his sleeve and wrote “Help!” with his finger on the back of the card.
Iago raised his other eyebrow.
“Do you have any better ideas?” said Uvanov, in response.
Iago turned to the door. “Quiet, I can hear footsteps.”
The footsteps stopped and the door slid open to let in Justina and several members of the board wearing party hats and pyjamas.
“Surprise! Happy Birthday!” said Justina and the others, as the lights came on in the room.
For a moment, Uvanov was speechless. “Er, thank you,” he managed, after a pause.
With a fake grin plastered on her face, Justina put an arm around Uvanov’s shoulders and handed him a glass of wine. She whispered into his ear, “This is all part of a plot to flush out who had it in for you, on the Board. These are all your supporters. Carnell set it up.”
“I should’ve known he was behind it.”
“Rull and Cotton are rounding up everyone who was drawn into the scheme to depose you.”
“What about this lot?”
“They were drawn into a scheme to organise a secret birthday party.”
Charl Lu Win, a florid, rotund Board member, came up to them and clapped Uvanov on the back. The latter gave him a look you shouldn’t give a loyal supporter.
“Well done, old man, takes me back to when I was at school and we had a midnight food fight. Best time of my life. This pyjama party is a wheeze isn’t it? I hope the cake turns up soon - I haven‘t eaten for an hour. Oh look, the booze is here,” said Charl and moved off at the sight of a robot wheeling in a mobile bar.
A couple of hours and bottles of wine later, Uvanov was perched on top of a sherry cask. It was at the opposite end of the room to the robots serving drinks. Iago was next to him, leaning nonchalantly against the wall, convincing the partygoers that wearing cake and a quilted dressing gown was the very height of cool.
“You know, Iago,” said Uvanov, slurring his words. “This is the bestest birthday ever and the bestest thing is Landerchild isn’t here. And you know what that means? Rull will have locked him in the cells and he’ll have to eat rat forever. For-Ev-Er!”
A flushed couple staggered back into the room, having briefly left to do things to make them flush. “The cake’s arrived - it’s massive!” said one of them.
Uvanov stood up to receive the cake and make a speech on how great he was or ask if there was any sherry left, he hadn't decided. He sat back down again as the cake was wheeled in, on a trolley, by Landerchild.
“Happy birthday, Uvanov, my dear friend. I'm so sorry I’m late - I was delayed while I waited for my chef to mix extra icing to write out your name. I should have got a robot to do it, but icing plays havoc with their circuits,” said Landerchild.
Uvanov couldn’t help noticing the cake was a black forest gateau and was large enough to cover him and Iago, if it was reduced to crumbs. Damn, Carnell and his foolproof plan - I’ll chop his variables off, thought Uvanov.