She wished she had a drink right now. Pure, unrefined vodka would do the trick, just to feel the liquid scalding her tongue, then allowing it to dilute round the edges of her mouth. The flavour would tingle every nerve, waiting for the climax when she swallowed, the sensation flowing down her throat to her stomach. It was why Irina Maximonova loved vodka; it rapidly cut through the bitterness of life.
She considered the drink of choice of the woman before her, Heather Pleasure or some such airhead name. Probably a champagne lovie.
Vodka brought you to attention, a virtual slap across the face reminding you take control.
‘So why have you chosen to speak out now?’
Irina had explained it already but Heather Pleasure hadn’t been listening. Instead her butch director was probably squealing in her right ear, firing the questions because she was too dumb to read the autocue. Though Heather appeared not to do a lot of thinking, she was clearly cold and unrestrained. Irina could see why they put her up for these no-
‘As I explained previously, my husband chose to share intimate details about me in the newspapers. I felt that I should put the record straight.’
‘Why didn’t you do it earlier…in the court case? I mean this stuff is extreme. Is this revenge because you lost?’
This interview was now officially a mistake. It was supposed to be on her terms; Irina’s side of the story after the disaster of the divorce court. But Heather Pleasure with her nailed on smile wasn’t playing that game. Irina held her annoyance tight in her hands retaining the relaxed assurance of the woman she had fought to be.
‘I know you might find it hard to believe, but I was being discreet, both for my sake as well as his.’
‘But now you’re not?’
Irina leant forward, brushing down her white suit, stepping into Heather’s space before speaking.
‘Honey, you should know…once you’ve been exposed in every newspaper in the land, discretion is something you no longer have much need for.’
Heather couldn’t stop the muscles in her face slipping as the bright red lipstick broke its position and a scowl appeared. Leaning forward, matching Irina’s lead she forced the smile back into position. She clearly wasn’t that stupid that she didn’t recognise that she was being made a fool of. Irina expected a riposte.
‘Why should we believe you? Is this a desperate attempt to win back your former career as a model, or what was it you used to say? A hard working, independent woman, a role model to every housewife in the country. ’
Irina knew she was in a battle. She paused, taking a deep breath ready to get back on terms with the onslaught.
‘I don’t tell lies. I’ve never pretended to be anything other than I am. I’ve always spoke my mind and stood up for people who couldn’t stand up for themselves.’
‘And slept with more men than the average North London prostitute, I hear.’
Did she really say that? She told herself not to take the bait. The tougher the questions the more straightforward and unambiguous she could make her answers
‘So you’ve read the newspapers. Well done. It’s a pity you didn’t learn that extra bit of insight which suggested that perhaps you don’t have to believe everything you read.’
‘So now everyone else is lying.’
Heather leant back in her chair. She appeared to enjoy that comment. Irina was only just getting started.
‘If you want to play who’s shagged who, I’m more than happy to detail every single encounter here on your ten o’clock slot. As I said before, I’ve got nothing to lose.’
‘Even the Russian lovers?’ Heather asked.
‘Yes the French, German or African as well. Is that the level you want to descend to? Are Russian men better in bed than English men? Please!’ Irina said. ‘I have relationships with men based on who they are, not what language they speak.’
‘How do you counter the arguments that you were spying on your husband and selling secrets to your Russian lovers?’ Heather asked.
‘It’s a bit like he said, she said, in the school playground. I don’t even hear the question anymore.’
‘But you must admit that you did have access to important documents and your indiscretion could be seen to be compromising.’
‘I’m sorry…just because my husband brought home his extremely confidential and important ministerial documents, my life was suitably unexciting enough that I leaned over his shoulder and memorised every word just so I could relate everything to my lover whilst he made mad passionate love to me.’
‘So is splitting the atom, but I don’t see me and you donning white coats and Bunsen burners, do you?’
Heather paused and took a check on the camera. Irina wasn’t sure if there was a sly wink to her audience or she was just buying some time. Irina decided the latter was true.
‘You mentioned your husband restrained you and forced you to have sex with other men? Have you made a complaint to the Police? That’s a horrendous accusation to make.’
‘No I don’t intend to take it to the Police. My husband and I had a healthy relationship which involved some S&M experimentation. My statement was, if you listened, that he got a little carried away sometimes and I would get pissed off with him ignoring my safety words. And yes once when I was tied up he invited a friend round to join in and I was pissed with him for that as well.’
‘That’s extraordinary. You talk about it as if it was a normal everyday disagreement.’
‘Come on Heather; don’t come the prude with me. I’ve read newspapers too,’ Irina said, watching the cheeks go red on Heathers face. ‘I’ve always been open about my sexual appetite and I admit that I struggle with the concept of monogamy and so does my ex-
‘So why did you complain about the other man having sex with you?’ Heather asked. Irina had to hold back the desire to punch her.
‘Because he never consulted me and if he had, I would have told him that the guy he invited was a smelly old sod whose hand I wouldn’t shake never mind any other part of his anatomy.’
‘And you won’t say his name?’
‘God no, this isn’t kiss and tell.’
‘So in summary, to put the record straight as you said you wanted to do. You divorced your husband for irreconcilable differences, but because he wouldn’t agree terms you took him to court. You were humiliated in the newspapers when stories of your sexual excesses got out, so you felt the need to expose your husband, the Secretary of State for Energy, as an S&M indulger who enjoyed watching ugly old men have sex with his wife.’
Irina didn’t see the point in arguing. She had lost, not because of smart-
So she did. The microphone descended to the floor, with a bump audible on the speaker. She slipped off the headphones and silently walked out of the studio without a word to anyone.
As she made her way out of the studio she spotted a group of photographers in the entrance. This is what her career had descended too.
Harry Waters had his head in his hands. His fingers opened slightly as he brought himself out of his self-
He loved this place, thinking of it as his power cave. Deep in the heart of Whitehall in the corridors where deals were done and decisions made. He considered this his own den where the problems were always his to solve. Years of dedication and hard work had brought him here and he was proud of it. Competitors and opposition MP’s would challenge his right to the role, and although they always tried to make it personal he knew it wasn’t. The most experienced politician in the world would find his position under constant review; it was the nature of politics. For every job, difficult and impossible as they often seemed, there was a queue of people with the arrogance to believe they could do a better job than you.
However, getting the role was one thing; the bigger challenge was keeping it. This was what Harry was struggling with as let his fingers drop. He’d watched so many others in the same position make the mistakes he was now facing, yet he’d fallen into the same trap. Politicians needed to be seen to be in control, good or bad decisions had to be shown to be theirs. The minute you looked like you were not in charge, that circumstances were happening around you not because of you, you were politically a lame duck, soon to be dead whilst the vultures hovered above.
A knock at the door focussed his attention. Was someone going to snatch him victoriously from the jaws of defeat or was this the death knell on his career?
‘Sir, we have the press-
‘Yes of course Charles, bring it over.’
The A4 sheet was placed in front of him with the department’s logo decorating the header.
‘Do you think this is enough to keep the wolves away?’ he asked his advisor.
‘If you ask my opinion, sir, I believe the only person who can silence the doubters is your wife?’
‘But this is a good deal. Isn’t it? I mean this will cut household gas and electric bills substantially. Who really cares how it was brokered. I don’t recall many other business deals that were good for the country being analysed so closely.’
Harry was still getting over this. A five year fixed price deal from a Russian gas supplier was good for everyone, yet no-
‘It’s ok. I’ve been round the block enough times to know the answer to that question has nothing to with the deal, more about who can get the claws into me.’
‘You need your wife to come clean, sir. Tell the media that she had nothing to do with passing confidential tender information to the Russians.’
‘She prefers to laugh it off and talk about her sexual encounters. It’s all some soap-
‘They’ll be back I fear…the same questions and more.’ Charles looked back at the door in case of others were intruding on the conversation. ‘You will have to make her understand the consequences for all of us if people believe it’s true.’
‘It’s impossible and you know it. There is no way Irina could have read that information. Anyone who knew her would know that she doesn’t give a shit about detail and content. She loves power and control, but is not concerned with detail like this.’
‘It’s not me you need to convince.’
Harry let the press release go. It was strong and confident statement, but Charles was right. Words on a press release were pointless when the media had the scent of scandal. Irina had always been a scandal waiting to happen but this went beyond that. This was spying and that created issues far outside the interests of newspapers.
The phone answered after two rings.
‘I really shouldn’t be speaking to you,’ she said without introduction.
‘Neither should I,’ he responded with equal coolness, ‘but sometimes we need to hear things directly, not through newspaper columns or lawyers whispers.’
‘So tell me…what is it I need to hear?’
‘Irina, you need to flatly deny you had anything to do with spying. You need to stop playing games. It’s making things worse.’
There was a pause on the line. He stood up to give himself more assurance. His ex-
‘Worse for you or me?’ She asked, probing him before she had to commit a response.
‘Both of us, damn you. I’m getting asked questions about you that I can’t answer. I’m not just talking about smart-
‘What are you talking about Harry, you’re not letting your ego trouble you again are you? Are we not feeling important? Perhaps I should come round and we can play those games where you get to be Prime-
‘Irina, quit messing around. You have no idea how damaging this is.’
How he lasted all the years with her he would never know. She was completely infuriating.
‘Come on dear, spell it out, if you are that concerned for me.’
‘Don’t be so bloody naïve, woman. I can’t say it on the phone.’
‘Oh dear, we are a little paranoid. The newspapers will move on soon, just you see.’
‘Forget the newspapers,’ he cursed in frustration, he really didn’t want to say it but she had to hear it, ‘deny the story Irina or both of us are in serious danger.’
He put the phone down before she could undermine the warning with more of her come-
The room felt darker than any other time he’d been there. The panelled walls felt close and imposing. More than anything else, the power that previously had infected his enthusiasm and desire now felt as if it belonged to the building; to the corridors that ran like arteries through the system. He understood now that being an occupant of the room did not make you the controller, only the tenant.
The detective sat opposite, formal suit let down by a schoolboy tie fastened by an amateur probably happier in a pair of jeans. Harry decided from the detective’s patient relaxed behaviour that he had already noting his nervousness. He would be aware that in his head, Harry was composing his resignation speech. Like every other minister where circumstances forced the political carriage off the rails, the dignified opportunity for escape had been missed. Public humiliation and judgement were all that remained.
But at least that was preferable to the fate of Irina.
The detective had attempted delicacy, aware of the politics, aware of his position, but it had little value now. His ex-
‘What do you think happened?’ the detective asked. Harry’s own alibi for her possible murder was as robust as they come, witnessed by BBC parliament with five equally honourable colleagues debating the inner workings of energy policy. This allowed the detective more confidence in sharing his thoughts.
‘I couldn’t possibly say. Whatever Irina got herself involved in; it was nothing to do with me.’
The detective remained calm. His eyes hadn’t spent much time in contact with Harry, more immediately focussed on his notebook. Perhaps there was sanctity on the page, certainly Harry didn’t offer much. Harry only offered more questions and curiosity. A minister for who little remained secret.
‘What do you make of this spying game? Do you believe she could have done it?’ the detective asked, his voice steady and un-
‘In my view,’ Harry replied, ‘which I find increasingly irrelevant where Irina is concerned, she wasn’t the type. She was an open book, ruthlessly honest. You must have seen the news, her interviews. There was little she wouldn’t share when asked a direct question.’
‘Yes I see that,’ the detective said. His head began to dart about the room like a child taking in the sites at Disneyland, except he seemed to looking for something. Something that would satisfy his curiosity, perhaps telling him what he already knew. ‘But isn’t openness the best cover for a lie?’
Harry took in the question for which there was no reply.