The new Prime Minister left the car that had brought him from the Palace, stood before the waiting media, said a few words, including some self-deprecating bumblings, then turned and shambled through the famous black door.
Bozo, as he was known to only the closest of his close friends, walked through to his office, sat down, put his hands behind his head, leant back, put his feet on the desk and started to congratulate himself.
'Well Bozo, you've finally bagged the top job.'
He thought about his predecessor.
'At least he went when he said he would. Not like Blair and Brown. Not that anybody is likely to confuse me with Brown.' He chuckled to himself.
He swung himself into a more business like position behind his desk.
'I suppose I had better get the show on the road. Get people implementing some policies, or at least get some policies.'
He pressed the intercom button and asked the Cabinet Secretary, the head of the permanent Civil Service, to step into his office.
"Yes, Prime Minister?"
"Ah, Sir Brian, I want to firm up the senior members of the Cabinet. It shouldn't take long, most of them are staying put. Like my predecessor, I don't believe in moving people for the sake of it. If they want to play musical chairs, maybe we should throw a party. That might be jolly, don't you think?"
"Whatever you say, Prime Minister." Sir Brian knew the man was something of a party animal.
"I do have to get a new Chancellor. We get an increased majority, but he manages to lose his seat. Done a Patten on me. Ha-ha." It wasn't quite a laugh.
"That wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that he didn't get a lot of support in the press, would it, sir? I seem to think the paper you used to write for was especially lukewarm."
Something close to a smirk crossed Bozo's face, which in turn was reflected in a brief relaxation of Sir Brian's stiff upper lip.
"What for, sir?"
"Chancellor, of course."
"That's really a political thing, sir. I couldn't possibly comment." As a Civil Servant, Sir Brian was expected to be non-political.
"But you will. Just not directly, eh?"
Sir Brian's lip briefly relaxed for a second time.
"How about the Member for..." and using the names of their constituencies, the Prime Minister proceed to name some candidates for the post. Each name would draw a remark from the Cabinet Secretary. Maybe "Do you think that wise, sir?" or "A good choice, if I may say so?" or similar, depending on the abilities of the man (or woman) concerned. The Prime Minister slipped in some no-hopers just to make sure he was reading the code correctly. His short list was soon down to two. Finally Bozo named the constituency of an old chum of his that he thought could do the job.
"I'm told it's a nice place for a holiday, sir."
Was that commendation or condemnation? Bozo glanced at Sir Brian's face. He looked as though he had been sucking the lemon he always had in his tea. Except they weren't having tea.
"I really think you should discuss the appointment with your Party and your political advisors, sir."
There was a short pause before the PM continued.
"I could be radical I suppose." Sir Brian raised an eyebrow.
"I could follow Gladstone's lead and appoint someone from the Opposition."
Sir Brian's other eyebrow twitched. County Hall had warned him. He could see the next few years being challenging. What was the word the Chinese liked to use? 'Interesting' that was it. Things were going to be 'interesting'.
"You mean like the Public Accounts Committee. Very radical, sir. Your Party won't like it and I don't think the Opposition will fall for it either. They might see it tying their hands."
The PM knew who he thought was the best man for the job, but it was politically impossible. Even more impossible than a member of the Opposition. The third Party had done 'the right thing' and joined in Coalition ten years ago, but it had come at a high cost to them electorally. Although they were now beginning to rebuild, one of them taking a post in the Government would be a death blow. That meant the only suitable candidate was the one left on his list after his discussion with Sir Brian.
"Very well, I think we know who it should be. I'll make the necessary call then make sure all the other senior people are happy to stay where they are. That should take the rest of the morning."
"Will you be dealing with the junior posts this afternoon?"
"No, they can wait. Let them sweat a bit.
"I want to talk with the President before it gets too late. Can we get a translator lined up for around lunchtime?"
"A translator sir?" Sir Brian's eyebrow was on the move again. "I know the man is from the Deep South, but he does speak English of a kind."
"Ha, ho! Er no, not him. I've already spoken to him. God, who is he? He makes Dubya look like an intellectual. If he's the product of the American University system they should be ashamed."
"They are sir. I have it on good authority, they are."
"Hm, they think I am right wing. He makes Genghis Khan look like a nun. One thing about it, if he starts a war, it's likely to be a civil war and we can keep out of it. If he has his way, there will be fiery crosses across the land before the year is out."
This time it was Sir Brian's lip that twitched. "I see you've read your Foreign Office briefing paper."
"Mm, not that I needed it as far as he was concerned." The PM guffawed but quickly became serious again. "But the paper confirmed my view that it is time for us to re-boot our relations with certain states whatever the FO thinks. That's why I want to speak to the other President before it gets too late. Don't forget he is several hours in front of us."
"Ah. I see who you mean, sir. Protocol dictates he should ring you to congratulate you on your appointment. You know he is a stickler for protocol."
"Protocol be damned. If he doesn't ring us, we'll ring him. He's only bothered about protocol if he thinks he's not getting his due. He'll be happy we're picking up the tab for the call when it should have been his."
"If you say so, sir. I will go and arrange it and leave you to speak to the new Chancellor."
Sir Brian left the room, silently giving thanks that he had been successful in making a new staff appointment earlier that morning. The man will definitely be needed.
The Prime Minister made his calls including the one to the person he hoped would accept the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer. The PM was a bit worried that the past they shared would mean that he might not agree.
They had been at 'prep' school together, and, as is the wont of boys in a single sex boarding school and heading into puberty, they had experimented together. For Bozo it had proved to be a passing phase, but for the other it was an expression of his natural inclinations. The man he had become had always been discrete and was now in a Civil Partnership with someone working at the Palace for the Duke.
On the occasions their paths had crossed in later life the two had always been civil to each other but could not be described as friends. The Prime Minister was a bit too prone to making casual homophobic comments for their meetings to be anything other than business-like.
The Prime Minister need not have worried, the man agreed, but did say it would be best if they continued to keep things business-like and not try to be friends. Although he shouldn't have to, he was even prepared to give the PM some leeway over his homophobic gaffs as long as they weren't personal and were amusing.
There was twenty five minutes before the call to the President was scheduled. Sir Brian thought it a good time to introduce the new staff member to the Prime Minister.
The PM eyed the new man suspiciously. "I've seen you already this morning, haven't I?"
"Yes sir, at the Palace. I was with the Duke."
"Why are you here then?" The PM thought he knew from something the Queen had said about her husband at his Audience that morning, but wanted to hear it from the new man.
"The Duke has finally announced his retirement from public engagements so my services are no longer required in his office. Sir Brian thought my experience with the Duke would be useful here and asked me to join the team."
"And just what did you do for the Duke?"
"I was a press secretary dealing with - er - post-engagement feedback."
"Aha. You mean you were the guy who had to smooth things over after the Duke put his foot in it."
Bozo gave Sir Brian a pained look, then smiled and turned back to the staffer.
"It seems I am prone to gaffs too, so I am sure your experience will be useful here. Welcome aboard. Now if you will excuse us we have to prepare for a conference call." The PM showed the man to the door.
"He is very discrete and good at his job. However there is something else you should know about him. He wouldn't tell you himself as he doesn't yet know you need to know. His partner is your new Chancellor."
"Very convenient." The sarcasm oozed from the PM. "What are you trying to tell me? That the Chancellor should have my job?"
"No, sir. We both know the Chancellor isn't suitable for the top job. He also knows the country isn't ready to accept a gay PM yet. His partner is here to do the same job he did for the Duke and make sure any gaffs any of the team do make are handled in the least damaging way.
"Our character reports suggest that they do not talk to each other about their respective jobs except in the most general way and they are both very loyal. As long as you don't deliberately upset them you should have no problem keeping them on-side."
There was a knock at the door. It was the translator. Accompanied by the tea trolley.
Tea was handed round. Sir Brian had his with lemon as usual.
Once the biscuits were eaten, they got down to discussing what the Prime Minister wanted to achieve in the call.
"You're through to the President now, sir." the voice announced from the conference speaker-phone.
"Er. Good evening, Mr President. Thank you for taking the call. May I start by congratulating you on your re-election last month? And on a good turnout too."
The irony in the PM's remark was not lost on Sir Brian; he hoped the President did not pick up on it.
"Thank you, Prime Minister. It is I who should be congratulating you. But tell me how did you do it? The polls had the Opposition winning, and their leader ran a confident, professional campaign."
"Ah, er. That's it. You see we Brits still have a suspicion of anything that looks too professional. Smells of ambition for self not Country."
"And you're not ambitious? ... We thought you might have been helping those who were too lazy to go to the polling stations by doing their voting for them."
A look of indignation crossed the PM's face. A bit of backstabbing was one thing, but vote-rigging was a no-no. He schooled himself back into his bumbling public persona.
"Oh, er. Don't judge others by yourself."
Bozo chuckled as he delivered the line, but it didn't feel wholly natural. He hoped the buffer effect of talking through translators would mask it. He looked across at Sir Brian. The Cabinet Secretary had that pinched look on his face again. And the lemon slice was still in his tea.
The tension was broken by a hearty laugh from the phone speaker.
"Dmitry, our Ambassador, tells us that the Duke has announced his retirement from public life. He had a very good Press Secretary. You should ask him to join your team. I think you are going to need him."
"Et tu Brute?.. Sir Brian signed him up an hour ago!" This time the PM's laugh was genuine. It was, however time to move on to more serious matters.
"Mr President, I would welcome your views on....." and they went on to discuss the some of the current conflict areas around the world. Of course, the interminable instability in the Middle East was raised. As there had been a new man in the White House since the beginning of the year, they thought a Summit might be useful and agreed to set things in motion to meet in Sochi in September.
"That went quite well, sir. I did think you had put your foot in it when you accused him of vote rigging."
Sir Brian was actually impressed with the way the call had gone. The two leaders seemed to have developed a rapport, something hard to achieve over the phone and quite unexpected.
"Yes, I thought so too. And we get a holiday in Sochi. It will be interesting to see the place again."
"But you didn't go out to the Olympics, did you, sir?"
"No. We went out there when I was a kid. My father was working in Europe at the time. If you want, I'll tell you about it over lunch."
So they went to lunch, and Sir Brian learnt some things about the PM that were not in his briefing notes.
As the date of the summit approached, Bozo made some time to take stock of how things were progressing in the first few months of his Administration.
His new relationship with the President was bearing fruit in the reduced tensions between their two countries. They had even agreed the they could probably get the man in the White House to sign up to just about anything as long as it was dressed up to look as though it would save his cronies a couple of three dollar bills off their tax. Even that was unnecessary if it could be presented as security spending.
The Prime Minister had come to appreciate the semi-formal style of the Cabinet Secretary and how it helped him distinguish between matters relating to party politics and those of administration. Sir Brian had become something of a confessor figure for the PM and acted as a sounding board for some of his more outrageous ideas. He probably relied on Sir Brian more than he should, but there again that is part of why the permanent Civil Service is there: to provide non-political advice to Ministers. For his part Sir Brian was finding life 'interesting'.
The members of his ministerial team were handling their briefs with sufficient competence to keep the Opposition and the Press at bay. The inspired appointments turned out to be that of Chancellor and that of the Chancellor's partner as a Press Secretary.
Bozo had known since their days at school that the Chancellor had a quick wit, but in the intervening years he had developed his sharp mind. The Opposition might score the odd point at Treasury Questions in the House, but as yet they hadn't been able to win a round. If any issue threatened to build momentum, he always seemed to be able to defuse the situation. Even the 'mandarins' at the Treasury were impressed with his grasp of economic affairs and his ability to challenge their long held assumptions.
The Press Secretary, on the other hand, had already had to dig Bozo out of a couple of holes. Things were getting better after the Secretary started to coach the Prime Minister before events rather than concentrating on cleaning up after. The PM's gaffs were becoming less embarrassing and more an endearing aspect of his persona, helping to keep his popularity ratings up. That the Secretary had a sense of humour and was something of an impressionist no doubt put Bozo at ease and accepting of his help. The PM's favourite impression was that of Sir Brian. The Secretary would even put lemon in his tea when in character.
In fact the Prime Minister had come to have a good working relationship with the Chancellor and his partner. Through their influence he had become more considerate in his comments about gays and his attitude to minorities in general. While they did not have enough in common to become close friends, he liked and trusted both men. He also liked their cooking. Better than his wife's, not that he would dare say so in front of her . Better than that of his mistress, and the less she is mentioned the better.
It had been Sir Brian that had first suggested an evening strategy meeting be held next door, at the Chancellor's house, on the grounds that it would be less likely to be interrupted. And could they provide some food? The sly old dog must have known of their culinary expertise.
Bozo thought it was time to wangle another invitation. There were a number of things he wanted to discuss with them before the Sochi trip.
As is the nature of these things, neither the Chancellor nor the Cabinet Secretary were invited to the Summit. In any case, they were needed to hold the fort at home while the Prime Minister was away. The PM therefore wanted his Press Secretary to cover Sir Brian's confessional duties as well. A bit irregular, but he was already security cleared and was astute enough and in tune with policy enough to be able to offer sound advice when asked. The PM would arrange a briefing for him with Sir Brian before the trip.
More importantly, the Prime Minister needed to reassure both men of the safety of the Press Secretary while they were away. Reports were coming in that homophobic attacks were on the increase in the country they were travelling to. There was also another, not unrelated, matter that the PM wanted to plan with them.
Bozo got his dinner, and in the course of it, the Chancellor and his partner learnt things about the PM, which were not really a surprise to the Chancellor. To his amusement, the Press Secretary also learnt things about his partner; much to the latter's embarrassment.
The Summit had been a success. They had even agreed some new initiatives to try in the Middle East.
It was the last day and Bozo had another item on his agenda, of which the President was blissfully unaware. An item that he had had in mind when he made that call on his first day in office. It had changed focus following his discussions with the Chancellor, his Press Secretary and Sir Brian, but it still required a private discussion between him and the President.
The Prime Minister announced his wish to go for a swim at the Lido. This was not totally unexpected for two reasons. Firstly, it was well known that he took a certain amount of exercise to keep fitter than his corpulent frame would suggest. Secondly, his Press Secretary had accidentally mentioned it to his opposite number in the President's delegation. Accidentally on purpose.
The President rose to the bait. They knew he would. He would never pass up the opportunity to display his physique to the cameras and his nation. And the contrast with the flabby Prime Minister was just too good to miss. Before the man from the White House could offer to tag along , he was hustled out of the room by his minders.
A time was agreed, and an instruction sent that the Lido should be cleared for their exclusive use.
The Prime Minister deliberately turned up five minutes late, with the result that he and the President arrived together. 'That should just niggle him nicely.' thought Bozo. He wanted the man alert, perhaps a little uncomfortable that things were not going entirely his way, but not angry, definitely not angry.
They got changed and there was the obligatory photo-call. Bozo knew he would be made to look an unfit slob, but he didn't care. It suited his purpose and was pretty much his image anyway. After a while, he realised the photographers were concentrating on the President so he turned and dived into the pool, thankful that it was now heated. He was not sure he could have gone through with the plan if the water had been as cold as he remembered it from all those years ago. After a bit more posturing for the cameras the President jumped in next to him, and they started swimming lengths.
To his surprise, Bozo found he was keeping pace with the President who seemed to be going flat out. He thought he could probably overtake him, but that wasn't in the plan so he just kept about half a body length behind. Even that seemed to be upsetting his swimming partner. He didn't want him too upset. He stopped at the end of the length, climbed out of the pool and went for a drink at the granite water fountain.
While he waited for the President to join him, Bozo looked around. His Press Secretary had played his part and got the translators and other hangers-on ensconced at the bar. There was some music playing. Good. When the President joined him they would be alone in plain sight, and the music would stop them being overheard.
The President approached wearing a big grin that said he had won the race that wasn't a race. Bozo returned the smile and indicated the President should join him leaning on the water fountain - facing away from prying eyes at the bar.
'Heute ist nicht der erste mal."
The President maintained his inscrutable smile. Bozo was pleased he had got the man sufficiently on guard not to react visibly. He knew the President spoke fluent German. The man had been stationed in East Germany for a while. Bozo had learnt the language at his mother's knee.
"What do you mean?"
"This is not the first time we have leant on this fountain."
"But the pool was closed for winter during the Olympic Games."
"No, it was before that. We were twelve going on thirteen. I used a different name then."
The President stood up and started to walk towards the pool. Bozo thought his plan had failed at the first hurdle, but then the man turned towards him.
"Shall we go back in the water? We are getting cold here"
Bozo didn't feel cold, but got back in the pool anyway. They swam out to the middle, to a point where they could stand on the bottom with just their heads above water.
"The fountain is bugged. What name were you going to say?"
"You called me Sacha and I called you 'Imp'." Bozo used the English word. "I think there are things we need to talk about"
As he spoke and in the silence that followed, he watched as the President's emotions were betrayed on his normally impassive face. Puzzlement then understanding quickly followed by embarrassment. The reddening face changed to one of restrained anger. But in the transition there was a brief moment when Bozo thought he glimpsed another emotion: fear.
The President ducked his head under the water and swam to the side of the pool. Bozo thought that might be the end of the meeting until he saw the man turn and head back towards him.
The swim had cooled the anger and embarrassment from the President's face. It had also given him time to marshal his thoughts. He realised how ingenious the Prime Minister had been to engineer this chance of a private, no, personal talk in innocuous surroundings. Almost anywhere else would have inevitably involved interpreters and other staff making the discussion of personal matters impossible. Yes there were things they needed to talk about.
"So you are little Sacha? But you are not 'Schwuchtel'. You're married and I am told you have a mistress. Not the first either."
It was not a word Bozo had learnt from his mother, so he guessed it was slang and deduced meaning from the context.
"No, I'm not gay and I have no reason to think you are either. That's why I have decided I owe you at least an explanation and probably an apology for what happened last time we were here together."
And so Bozo began to tell the story, interspersed with the Imp's recollections, of how they came to that last fateful meeting.
It was the summer Bozo had finished at prep school, before he took up a scholarship to one of the most prestigious boarding schools in the land. They had met in the hotel on the day their families both arrived for their holidays. The Imp's father was a trusted apparatchik and allowed to stay at the hotel used by westerners. The boys had hit it off immediately. Knowing little or nothing of each other's language, they often used mime to bridge the gap. For the fortnight they were there, they were pretty much inseparable and were usually to be found having fun at the Lido.
Sacha, as he was known to the other, had given the slightly smaller boy the nickname Imp, not just because he was the smaller of the two, but also because he was usually in the lead in any mischief they got up to as they explored the town. And as they explored each other.
They had found a special place. An alley at the side of an empty house led to a neglected garden. There was even the obligatory dilapidated summer house. The perfect place for boys to do the things boys want to do in secret. One of the things they did was jerk off together. That there was more fun in doing it for each other was soon agreed. As the holiday progressed they discovered other means of giving mutual pleasure.
Although Sacha had some experience in these matters from his time at boarding school, he was by no means the instigator of all their games. The Imp was keen to experiment and was a quick learner.
It was on their last full day together and they decided to try something they hadn't tried so far. Sacha was a bit half-hearted about the idea. The Imp indicated that made one and a half votes to a half. Motion carried. They drew straws for who would go first and somehow Sacha lost again.
As they got each other aroused, Sacha was reminded of the other reason for calling his friend Imp. It was short for Impaler. The boy was very well endowed in proportion to his stature and for his age. Sacha wasn't sure it would fit where it was going. Sacha was definitely little Sacha by comparison.
Although this was to be a new experience for both boys, Sacha was used to the attentions of enquiring fingers, either his own or his partner's at school. He therefore had some idea of how to relax to allow entry. Things were made a bit easier after the Imp had used some of the greasy suntan lotion they had with them as a lubricant.
Sacha did find the initial pain eased as he got used to being impaled, but he still decided it was something he did not want to do again. However, he could tell from the ecstatic groans from the other boy that this was more intense than anything they had done up to now. The Imp must have been doing something for Sacha too, because by the time the boy climaxed, Sacha was desperate for his turn even though he knew he wouldn't be able to last long.
They disengaged and as Sacha manoeuvred into position he mimed asking if it was his turn. The spent boy could barely manage a nod; his experience had been so intense.
Sacha remembered the benefit of the suntan lotion and applied it liberally to the boy and himself, every stroke bringing him closer to the edge and more fired with lust. Never adept at considering the feelings of others, Sacha forgot the Imp had not had the benefit of the more esoteric aspects of a prep school education and ploughed on.
In spite of Sacha's smaller size, the Imp found the pain excruciating. To some extent it was fortunate that the boy was so exhausted and relaxed after his climax, otherwise the pain might have been even worse and there could have been physical damage. When he had finished, Sacha knew he had hurt the other boy and tried to apologise but the language barrier was too great to make himself understood.
In the three or four strokes it had taken for Sacha to achieve his orgasm, the Imp's memory of his own ecstasy moments before was erased, replaced by an understanding that man to man sex was painful, hateful even, and that was good enough reason for him as to why homosexuality was illegal in his country. In fact neither boy had ever wished to repeat the experience.
"I hurt you because of our inexperience and my thoughtlessness." concluded Bozo. "I should have made sure you could relax like I had. After all I managed to accommodate your bigger equipment without so much distress.
"So I finally get the chance to apologise for causing you so much pain. Will you forgive me?"
As they had talked, the President had been re-evaluating his memories of the events all those years ago. He knew he still had more to think about. He would talk more with this man with whom, as their paths had crossed for a second time, he had developed a rapport almost as quickly as on their first meeting.
"Sacha, little Sacha" The President embraced the Prime Minister in the traditional bear hug. "We did have some fun before that day.
"Swim with me, and we will talk more. There are some things on which I would welcome your views."
So they went back to swimming lengths. This time there was no racing, just talking.
Given their earlier conversation, it was to be expected that the discussion was mainly about homosexuality and public policy. The Prime Minister was glad of the briefing dinner he had had with his next door neighbours. It was no surprise when the President revealed that he knew about the Chancellor and the Press Secretary. And the PM managed to make a successful joke of it when he said that a lot of people he knew thought the President's macho photo shoots were blatantly homoerotic. Some even thought they showed he might be gay.
There came a point when they decided they should finish their swim and were completing their last length when they realised there was shouting coming from the bar. It looked as though the PM's Press Secretary was being jostled or worse.
They climbed out of the pool, grabbed towels from the attendants and dried themselves off as they hurried to the bar.
"What the hell's going on?" the President barked in his native tongue. The PM's translator was to give him a synopsis later.
"We're just having fun baiting the queer." somebody said, obviously not expecting to be reprimanded.
"This man is my friend's friend ." The President marched over to the Press Secretary embraced him and air kissed him on both cheeks. The poor Secretary went red with embarrassment. The President's delegation went white. This was not the reaction they had expected.
"You lot have had too much to drink. I suggest you all get in the pool to cool off...Now!"
As the President glared at each in turn they jumped in. Fully clothed!
It turned out to be the first action of the President's thawing of the attitude towards gays in his country. He didn't move fast. That would have provoked hostility and suspicion, but by the end his term it would be found that homosexuality had been decriminalised and anti-discrimination measures were being discussed. The juggernaut of public opinion would also be beginning to turn.
There was never any suggestion that either of the two men wanted to reprise the pastimes they had indulged in all those years ago. But there were times that Sacha and his Imp discussed policy differences that could not be resolved in the formal arena. As a consequence relations between the two countries were the most cordial they had been since before the First World War.
As the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Cabinet Secretary were taking tea one afternoon, the Press Secretary came in to join them.
"There's an envelope on the side for you." said the PM as he pointed in its general direction.
The Press Secretary opened the envelope and pulled out the contents.
"I see Ambassador Dmitry has called again."
He dropped the contents on the table between the four men. It was a picture from the President's latest macho photo-call signed with a personal dedication.
'Interesting' thought Sir Brian as he sucked the lemon from his tea.
With thanks to Nigel for his advice and encouragement.
© Copyright: Pedro, first published November 2015
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