Buck House

Buck House

Status: In Progress

Genre: Thrillers

Houses:

Details

Status: In Progress

Genre: Thrillers

Houses:

Summary

A young king has been crowned, and his prime minister senses an opportunity.

Partly inspired by the play 'King Charles III' by Mike Bartlett and Michael Dobbs' 'To Play the King'
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Summary

A young king has been crowned, and his prime minister senses an opportunity.

Partly inspired by the play 'King Charles III' by Mike Bartlett and Michael Dobbs' 'To Play the King'

Chapter1 (v.1) - Mortem

Author Chapter Note

"Woe, destruction, ruin, and decay;
The worst is death, and death will have his day."- Richard II, Act III Scene II

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: May 23, 2017

Reads: 84

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Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: May 23, 2017

A A A

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The King coughs, and not for the first time. The prime minister had counted seven particularly hoarse splutters in the last ten minutes. The heavy breathing she heard between sentences irked her most. He'd always been an annoying specimen, but never more so than now.

The King was dying. She knew it.

"Sir, I would be most happy to call our meeting short should you be feeling unwell" she suggests. The King sets his cup and saucer aside and shakes his aged head. The flab beneath his chin wobbles like a grey, entirely unattractive jelly. The prime minister looks up to the comparatively glorious sight of the painted ceiling above her. How this man had drawn the eye of such a beautiful wife once upon a time, she did not know.

"Nonsense" the King states, forcing himself to sit, slowly, a little higher in his seat, "I determine how long these audiences should be". The prime minister nods silently. One year since her election, and still she forgot who was the real boss. Or, at least, who she ought to pretend was the real boss. The fire within her had proved most helpful during her election campaign, but not in the absurdly grand setting of Buck House.

"How many papers do you think are pushed across my desk each day?" the King asks.

"I don't know, sir" the prime minister replies, not really caring for the answer.

"Many" the King informs her, drawing for sympathy the woman before him failed to harbour, "Many."

"So much seen, so much heard" he drones on, "One cannot believe what one reads in newspapers. Word of mouth is far better". The prime minister has to fight with all her might not to roll her eyes. Or whisper fuck off.

"One does read, however, that you are not the most popular girl in the schoolyard" the King smirks, his wrinkled face repulsive to the woman opposite. He was seventy-six, but had once remarked that his decades of public service made him look one hundred and seventy six.

"Difficult times call for difficult measures, do you not think?" the prime minister says, forcibly pushing all thought of the riots outside from her mind.

"And the Bill I most recently had thrown at me?" the King recalls in delight, "A measure to combat your own people?".

"Not my people, sir, but yours" the prime minister reminds him, "Many of those on the rampage would do you harm, sir". The king gives a small smile. As foul as he might be, the prime minister would at least concede that he was sharp. Her cabinet could never be so scathing.

"So you do this to protect me?" he queries, "You must think me a fool."

"I would never think such a thing of my king, sir". She would.

The press were forever intrigued by what occurred in these weekly audiences. No matter what the cynical muttering of hardcore republicans, those who resided within Buck House did in fact have minds of their own. Discussing the business of government could not be without some conflict, surely? The prime minister had encountered enough of that since her election. Or her appointment. Another technicality she was forced to remind herself of. It was the king who had appointed her, not the millions who voted for her.

"So this Riot Bill of yours is little more than security?" the king sighs, sunken eyes boring into the narrowed ones of his prime minister, "Why such fuss from your rivals?". The woman snickers behind her hand.

"I'm not sure I expect any different from the Liberal Party" she jests.

"I look forward to hearing its leader's thoughts on the matter" the king speaks, his own eyes narrowing now, "I have asked him to join me for an hour tomorrow". The prime minister's brows furrow in an instant.

"Mr Ellis is to join you here, sir?" she splutters, loathing the surprise of it, "Might I ask why you seek an audience with him?". The king grins, that awful, grotesque grin of his. He'd been handsome once.

"I think it sensible to seek not only the advice of my prime minister, but the advice of my opposition leader" he explains, to the great internal boiling of the prime minister, "You wouldn't have me accused of bias, would you?". The prime minister shakes her head reluctantly. If only he had been on her side in anything. The king had always been set against her, for reasons she was not aware of. Perhaps they were not so different. Neither liked to be challenged.

"I hear on the news that Mr Ellis suggests changes to your Riot Bill" the king moves on, keen to plunge his dagger just a little farther.

"Mr Ellis would have me ditch the entire thing, sir" the prime minister says.

"And have you considered doing as much?" the king smiles slyly. The prime minister calms herself with a fantasy in which she throttles the man. He coughs only occasionally now, and she finds she is somewhat disappointed. The idea the king might be on his way out was one that made such coughs bearable.

"It's my duty to protect your people, sir. The Disorderly Behaviours Bill is written with that duty in mind" she defends, well rehearsed in her arguments for the Bill from the start. People were, at present, unchecked. True, the police loyal to their roles would intervene where necessary, but the prime minister believes a stronger approach was needed. People could not be trusted when they were upset. Eventually, she believed, they would see that the intentions of her government were in good order.

For one so aged, the king catches his much younger prime minister by surprise. "And if I don't sign your Riot Bill?" he presses. Her visions intensify, and now she thinks of throttling him in full view of her backbenchers.

"Forgive me, sir, but that does not lie within your power" she answers.

"Parliament serves at my pleasure" the king states, "What you propose is veiled oppression. I shan't stand for it". A muscle above the prime minister's left eye twitches.

"And who elected you, sir?" she bites. The king points towards the painted ceiling with a stubby finger.

"The Lord God" he whispers.

"And does He disapprove of my Bill too?". The king slams a fist on the arm of his chair. The prime minister does not flinch, all her efforts now dedicated to maintaining her poker face. She was both amused and frustrated by what she heard, but wouldn't betray either to the man in front of her.

"Dump it" the king demands, "Or I'll consult only with Mr Ellis from now on". Fucking try it, she thinks. At times of such hardship, the poor were more likely to side with her than him. It was true that she was far from a pauper, but the idea of being a democratically elected prime minister being dictated to by the monarch was ludicrous. Wasn't it?

The prime minister has little time to think on it, for soon she is being urged to leave, a door held open for her at the far end of the room. She leaves the king to his tea and his spluttering and follows a particularly smart man to the ground level. She hears a floorboard creak in the direction of a nearby corridor. There stands a thin, grey-haired man with eyes identical to the king's. He winks, and the prime minister regards him with a small smile. The king's brother, Edward, an unlikely claimaint but a preferable one.

"Good day to you, prime minister" the smart man says, gesturing towards the open door of her Jaguar. With one final heavy sigh of pure disgruntlement, she slips in.

Had she lingered for just a moment longer, she might have noticed the twitching of net curtain in a window some two floors above. Through its intricacies two pale green eyes could be seen. They were softer than those of the king and his brother, and considerably younger. A young Henry, soon to be ninth of that name should his father's coughing persist.

The prime minister doesn't really think of him as he car rolls from the golden gates of Buck House, but does silently consider in her mind whether or not his pen would hover so reluctantly over her Riot Bill.

*****

Verity really ought to button her shirts a little better. The prime minister's eyes dart to her private secretary's chest the moment she enters her office. This doesn't go unnoticed. "Later, dear" Verity taunts, flicking a lock of blonde hair from her delightfully dark eyes. The prime minister loathes how easily the woman distracts her, but had never made any attempt to sack her. With a berk of a king to contend with, the prime minister had to have someone alluring nearby.

"That damned man will be giving me grey hairs" she grumbles, casting her files down on her desk. She instinctively moves over to the mirror hanging on the wall behind.

Margaret Cambridge was a woman in her early forties, thin and relatively attractive in the eyes of most. Thin pink lips set almost permanently in a straight line, pale forehead dented slightly by so many frowns, red hair pinned back neatly, eyes light and devoid of warmth. No one could accuse her of not taking her job seriously. She'd dreamt of No. 10 from the moment of her father's death. Not with grand visions of justice and equality in mind, but victory. The mere act of being here was vindication enough. And that was why she was so urgent in her mission to silence those causing such trouble on the country's streets. They threatened her.

"He's ill" Verity reminds her gleefully, "You might be rid of him soon."

"I should never be so lucky" Cambridge groans, head sinking into the back of her desk chair. There is a moment of silence as the prime minister cools from her audience and Verity goes about her business.

"They say his boy is a little strange" she says, running a well-trimmed fingernail across the history volumes her boss kept in meticulous order on a nearby cabinet. "I'd rather the king were strangethan, well, whatever William is" Cambridge considers, "The prince would never be so intrusive."

"Or handsy" Verity adds. The prime minister had very nearly gouged the king's eyes from their sockets with a dessert spoon when he remarked that Verity, a lucky guest of the government's at a banquet, looked like fun.

"He's without a wife" Cambridge snorts, though without humour, "He fondles either you or his butler". The butler would probably enjoy it. A man in such service would no doubt be grateful for any kind of attention that did not involve the ordering of drinks.

"He frightened the most recent one off, and murdered the other" Verity scoffs. To that the prime minister must take objection. She had no great sympathy with the king, but had reason to doubt him a murderer.

"Beatrice was murdered by protestors" she corrects her secretary. Protestors like those running Britain's streets of a nightly basis. Protestors identical to those who had claimed the life of Cambridge's father some twelve years ago. The prime minister seems to freeze when she thinks on this.

"Protestors the king encouraged" Verity seems to mutter.

"And the second one?" she goes on.

"Escaped before she could contract any more venereal diseases" Cambridge jokes, reanimated, "And now sailing goodness knows where with goodness knows whom". The bottom feeders that were the gossip magazines claimed she had fallen in love with a penniless sailor and secretly borne him a daughter shortly before her divorce from the king was finalised. Such a thing seemed too heartwarming for Safana. Again, Cambridge is rendered stone-like. When was the last time she asked after her own daughter?

Verity seems to be thinking on something similar. "The prince is a simple boy" she says, perching on the edge of the prime minister's desk, "Perhaps a match for your daughter". Cambridge dismisses the suggestion immediately.

"I'd sooner ride the king's lap before Tom Ellis before I allow Elisa to get anywhere near Westminster" she cries. Elisa needed to be kept away from affairs of government and politics. Cambridge's father had made the mistake of keeping his daughter to close. The prime minister wouldn't repeat the same.

"Ellis might enjoy it" Verity smiles softly, typically demure as she flutters her eyelashes, "I hear many things about him."

"The king wants to invite him to Buck House for regular audiences" the prime minister recalls, "He really does relish the idea of undermining me". Verity pushes aside her briefing notes and leans a little further across the desk.

"Do stop thinking on that damn king for just an hour or two" she soothes. The more she leans, the more Cambridge realises just how poorly her shirt had been buttoned. It would at least make the act of removing it all the easier.

"You're right" Cambridge says, forcing herself to sit up again in her seat, "I've this bloody Bill to think about". Verity slides along all the more, curves pushing into the pens and folders resting on the prime minister's desk in the process.

"There is that" she says, seemingly forgetting that she was in fact a private secretary, "Though I'd rather you thought about me."

*****

A phone rings. It's shrill tone bounces from one wall to another inside the somewhat stuffy enclosure that was the prime minister's bedroom. Peace and privacy were not so essential now. Her evening had been a sufficiently entertaining one, and now she could return to her work without frustration. Her inamorata sleeps lightly by her side. She stretches an arm from the warmth beneath her covers and lifts the phone to her ear.

"Yes?"

The sharp intake of breath that follows is enough to rouse the sleeping Verity. She rests against the prime minister's bare back as though comforting her for a loss she was as yet unaware of. There had been a loss, one she had joked of only hours ago.

"Are they certain?" Cambridge says, her desire to learn more not borne out of denial but hope. A reply comes, and gently the thin layer of ice around her heart begins to crack.

"Meet me at the door" the prime minister instructs. She tears herself from the soft palms of her secretary and wraps herself in a silk robe of a light blue, her red locks pushed back from her sweat-spotted forehead. She had no desire to get herself properly prepared. What she would talk of to her Director of Communications, who now scuttles up from the darkness of his press office, was not worth getting dressed for. She'd made a statement come dawn, of course, in time for the morning's news.

Verity follows Cambridge to the door, not bothering to conceal herself but instead bearing all with a slightly deranged grin on her face. Perhaps she was looking forward to the prospect of not being manhandled whenever the prime minister happened to bring her along to royal events. A lock is turned, and the apartment door is opened by only a foot or two so as not to reveal Verity.

"Apologies, Prime Minister". Ishan Mishra bows his head at the door, a chipped biro lodged between his ear and the temple of his spectacles. Cambridge did not know why the man insisted on working such ridiculously long hours. He often lingered unnecessarily. The prime minister suspected his aim in staying so late was to see whether or not Verity ever made it out of Downing Street.

"What happened?" Cambridge demands of her Communications Director. She's aware of Verity toying with the ties of her robe behind her, and so pushes the apartment door to by a few more inches. "Heart attack, it seems" Mishra relays, "Buck House say their efforts came far too late. He was already gone". So the coughing had been a prelude to something. You appear to think yourself a god, the king had once said to her. Perhaps she was a god. Only a few hours ago had she envisioned the man dead.

"And the prince?" the PM queries.

"They found him wandering about outside the king's chambers" Mishra informs her, eyes narrowing ever so slightly, "He's a little shaken". The king had never really spoken of his son to Cambridge. Neither of his children seemed to interest him. She wondered whether his love for them had died with Princess Beatrice. Or perhaps it was only Princess Beatrice who ever gave the king the appearance of heart.

Mishra sighs. "I'll start writing your statement" he says, clearly not relishing the prospect. Verity abandons her attempts to unfasten the robe and instead turns to sucking each of the prime minister's fingers. Cambridge bats her away impatiently.

"Do that" she instructs, "And then send forward another copy of that Bill". Mishra frowns at her.

"But surely we cannot be seen to-"

"The Bill, Ishan" Cambridge repeats. The man does as he is told, albeit with an air of reluctance, and trudges back to the dark corner that was the press office. The prime minister locks the apartment door behind her and slumps down against it.

"He's dead" she thinks aloud, "Dead."

"And without my involvement" Verity jokes, sliding between the prime minister's legs to rest her head on her stomach. "Why are you not smiling?" she asks, her own happiness very much visible, "Don't tell me your hatred for the man was a total facade". Cambridge doesn't look at her, instead staring without focus at the plant pot at the far end of the hallway. She was far from deeply saddened, but not bursting with joy either. She felt something, but failed to pinpoint it. A sense of opportunity was not an emotion. Then again, emotion had always been a difficult concept.

"Do stop thinking about that awful Bill" Verity urges, tracing the prime minister's jaw line with the sharp edge of her fingernail. Awful Bill. Cambridge gives her a sharp flick to the nose for that description, but makes no real attempt to push her secretary away.

"What assessment did you make of the prince earlier?" she asks, the words the king is dead and the repetitive sound of coughing clouding her mind.

"Strange and simple" Verity recalls.

"Strange enough to accept the Bill despite its controversies, and simple enough to sign it?"  Cambridge ponders hopefully. She'd never know whether or not the king was sincere in his threats to her. William had done many an ill-advised thing in his reign, so refusing to sign a parliamentary Bill was not so preposterous.

"Strange, simple and young" Verity adds, words almost disappearing against the prime minister's neck. Still Cambridge does not react, her attention focused firmly elsewhere.

The young were easy to bend, as solid in their convictions as hot wax. The prince was nineteen and an orphan. There would be plenty of room at his table for an experienced advisor, wouldn't there? And why shouldn't the leader of his government be a worthy candidate?


© Copyright 2017 Meredith Mercer. All rights reserved.

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