The names, characters, places and events in this book are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any similarities to real persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organisations is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
One sleepy Fenland town. Two Polish chancers eager to make a fast buck with no questions asked. A group of businessmen with funny handshakes wanting to rake off big money from town planning contracts. A neo-Nazi bigot who’ll jump at the chance of becoming Mayor seeing it as the first stepping stone on his march to global power. His bunch of thuggish skinhead hangers-on. Add a huge, abandoned industrial complex on the edge of town ripe for redevelopment. Mix them all together and what could possibly go wrong? Except that matters soon escalate way beyond anything any of these groups expected.
Welcome to Sleazeford…
This book is a work of fiction. It is not an accurate representation of local government in Sleaford, Lincolnshire or indeed anywhere else in Great Britain. There is no such organisation as Sleaford Urban Council. In reality, Sleaford is governed by three tiers of local authorities: Sleaford Town Council, North Kesteven District Council and Lincolnshire County Council each with their own officials, responsibilities and budgets.
Therefore, none of the events described here could possibly happen.
Although considered by many to be a far-right, fascist organisation, the British National Party is a legitimate British political party that I am sure would not openly condone the views or actions of Peachornby or his followers.
Also, everyone knows that local politics is a model of honesty, integrity and transparency. Men and women stand for election to become councillors solely in order to serve and represent their communities. These are all selfless people. Nobody enters local government in order to become involved with graft, corruption or under the table deals. Nor do they wish to grandstand in the local media, poke their noses into other people’s business or throw their weight about on committees while claiming large expenses. These are well known facts. Therefore the events depicted here are impossible.
I have also taken a few liberties with the geography of Sleaford for the sake of the story.
Remember, this book is a work of fiction and the town depicted is more accurately Sleazeford rather than the real life Sleaford…
“We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children.”
David Lane 1938-2007, US White Supremacist
They say when you die, your whole life flashes before you. Len Weston’s life must have been very short – which it wasn’t – or he only got very edited highlights. Because Len was dead before he hit the floor.
Not like his death was the biggest surprise of the year. The guy was seventy, chronically overweight, smoked like a chimney, drank like a fish and loved his fry-ups. The concepts of healthy living and eating five portions of fruit and veg a day had passed him by. To top it off, he’d had two heart attacks already. After the second, he’d had a triple bypass operation.
At his follow-up examination the Consultant read him the riot act. “Cut out the cigarettes, the alcohol, the fry-ups and take-aways and avoid stress,” was the core of his message. Len nodded. After the first he was worried but after the second, he was genuinely scared. Terrified would be a better word. No way did he want to meet the Grim Reaper just yet.
His wife, Glenda, sat next to him. She herself was no svelte bride any more – she looked like one of those fat, jolly matrons on a saucy seaside postcard, her body all boobs, jelly-roll belly and bum. No neck but with a laughing face on top. But not today. She sat, hatchet-faced as the Consultant laid it on the line for Len.
On the drive home, Glenda turned to her husband of over forty years. “That’s it. Salads for you from now on. And you’ll take some exercise…”
“I’ll walk to the pub?” Len said, like many men trying to make a joke of his fear.
“No you won’t. You’re staying away from there. And you’re keeping out of the Club House…”
“C’mon,” said Len, hoping to use the skills he’d learned as a Trade Union negotiator all those years ago. “I’ll stick to orange juice. And the Doctor said I could play bowls in a couple of months.”
At the time,Len sincerely meant what he said. He’d looked into the face of Death and didn’t want to see it again any time soon. He looked at his wife as she drove. “Don’t make me give up the Urban Council. I’m certain to become Mayor at the next elections. It’s not stressful or anything – mostly opening fêtes and prize-givings. And I think you’d like it, dearest.”
Glenda pulled up at the lights. Despite her hard-set face, Len spotted the twinkle in her eye. He’d won. “You lose a stone by election time and I’ll be your Lady Mayoress. Deal?”
“Deal,” said Len. They shook hands. Len would agree to give up everything but he desperately wanted to become Mayor. That would be the high spot of his life – the prize he’d been working for all his political life. His name would be inscribed in gold leaf on the ornate Victorian plaque inside the Town Hall, there for all future generations to peruse.
Despite his age, it was easier than he thought to shed the pounds. That second attack had scared him stiff. Salads, cutting out the booze and even taking the stairs rather than the lifts helped to shift the weight. Sure, he was out of breath at the top but the exercise must be doing him some good, he thought. But he didn’t like the feel of his heart racing like it wanted to fly out of his chest. It’ll get easier as more weight comes off, he reassured himself.
The election result was closer than he expected. Sure, some of it was down to party politics at a national level. Politicians weren’t flavour of the month – when are they ever? – but also Len Weston’s ill-health had hit the local press. The Sleaford Standard ran several articles and Len’s request for his coronary to be hushed up had been politely ignored.
If he was a younger man – and in better health – he’d like to give that muck-raking journo, Butler, a good thumping out back. Wouldn’t like it would be the first time he’d used his fists to further the cause. When he was an up-and-coming Union convenor – back in the seventies, that was – he’d bashed a few scabs and blacklegs. But that was then and this is now and those days were behind him.
So the result was closer than he’d liked, but even a win by one vote is enough for victory. And Len knew he wouldn’t be seeking re-election. One term as Mayor of Sleaford would be enough for him. He’d milk it for what he could take and then resign on a greatly enhanced pension.
Len enjoyed the status and respect that came with the title. He loved wearing the gold chain of office and opening things. He loved his big office at the Town Hall even more. Okay, it overlooked the car park but so what? If he craned his neck, he could just see the spire of St Denys church. His office even came with a pretty secretary, Donna, and Len wasn’t stupid enough to mention her to Gladys.
The only drawback were the civic functions and feasts. Canapés, vol-au-vents, snacks, gateaux and in the evening, as often as not, a seven course banquet. Soup, fish course, a sorbet to cleanse the palate, then the main course – usually a roast with potatoes and all the trimmings – then dessert, always richly slathered with cream. These courses were all washed down with beer or wine, depending on the company. Of course, then came cheese and biscuits.
Len had a big weakness for cheese, especially blue cheese such as Stilton, Gorgonzola or Danish Blue. He always helped himself to a large wedge. In truth, several wedges. Finally, coffee and chocolate mints to finish the meal. If there was time between announcements and speeches, he’d step outside and enjoy a whisky and cigar, the rich smoke enhancing the meal. Usually, he swapped non-PC jokes and anecdotes with his friends.
Despite Gladys’s nagging and his family Doctor’s warnings, Len’s weight crept up and soon overtopped his previous peak. Behind his back, people started calling him Taft, after the heaviest American President in history.
However, with all the enjoyment of Mayorship, memories of his heart attack receded to the back of his mind. Occasionally, when he remembered, he chose boiled potatoes over roasties. Or soda water instead of single-malt scotch. But usually, life carried on as before and his laugh was heard at many functions and events in and around the district.
Every month, one function Len never missed was his Masonic Lodge. He was a Past Master of Eslaforde Lodge, which met every third Tuesday between September and May at Sleaford’s Masonic Hall on Watergate. The name Eslaforde was taken from the old name for Sleaford. He wore a dark blue apron liberally encrusted with gold braid which showed he was an officer of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Lincolnshire. Now he was Mayor, Len secretly hoped that he’d be promoted to Grand Lodge. Should be, he thought, he’d done enough for Freemasonry over the years. He’d dug deep for all the non-stop charitable requests.
This month’s meeting was fairly quiet. A lecture on the early history of Freemasonry. Having heard it all before, Len snoozed through it until the Director of Ceremonies nudged him in the ribs when his snores became noticeable.
It was at the dinner afterwards that he came into his own. Len was a born raconteur – more than one brother had told him he should have been on the telly. Len grinned modestly. As a Trade Union convenor and then a local politician, he’d made more money than most struggling comedians on the circuit. Tonight, he stood in the centre of the U-shaped tables with his Masonic brethren laughing and banging their glasses on the tables in applause.
“… and then the golfer raised his club and said…,” Len’s hand flew to his chest. “Ag…,” was the last thing he said, a strangulated choke. Len toppled over, his free hand moving feebly to protect himself but, like a falling oak, he crashed to the floor.
As one, the brethren gasped; an indrawn hiss. As one, as if a part of their ritual, they all stood looking down at Len’s body. It lay still, unmoving. One of younger members, a Steward, dropped the raffle tickets he was flogging and hurried over. He touched his late brother’s body.
“Len…, Len…, are you alright?” he asked.
“Of course he isnae.” A more senior member, Dr. Collinson knelt by the body. “I think it’s tae late but go call the ambulance, laddie.” Under stress, his Scottish accent became more pronounced. Muttering to himself, Dr. Collinson did a brief examination before starting CPR while the Worshipful Master shepherded the others out.
Any call from the Masonic Hall is treated as top priority and the ambulance broke all records getting there. From experience, the two paramedics realised it was a hopeless job but, with Dr. Collinson’s help, did their best. Still working on him, they put him in the ambulance and then full speed ahead to Grantham and District Hospital.
Forewarned, the emergency crash team stood waiting. As Len Weston was a local VIP, they did their very best for him but, after twenty minutes of fruitless labour which produced nothing but a flat-line, the Senior House Officer stood and flexed her back. She looked at the others on the team for their opinions. They all shook their heads.
“I pronounce him dead at…,” checking her watch, “…twenty-two fifty hours.” Before she could say anything else, her pager beeped. “Here we go again. No rest for the wicked.”
The following week, it was a sombre group of men who met at the Masonic Hall’s bar. Brother Len had been universally popular and his death left a big hole in Eslaforde Lodge. He’d been one of the longest serving members so there weren’t many who remembered a time before Len’s booming bonhomie enlivened their meetings.
Afterwards, when most had left, the Worshipful Master took a select group to one side. They sat in an alcove towards the back, beneath a painting of a magnificent stag gazing out over a Scottish moor.
“You know what this means?” Jeremy Sandiford asked. In his day job he was a senior partner at Gilbert Greene and Ellison, Solicitors.
“Fresh elections,” one of the others said. This man was James Naismith, the Deputy Mayor of Sleaford. Although nominally subordinate to the Mayor, he was the man who really controlled the Town Hall. He wasn’t looking forward to the extra work as his in-tray was overflowing.
“That’s right. Who do you think will win?”
Naismith thought for a moment. “It’s between our Brother Charles Langton-Gore for the Tories and Danielle Rice – the Labour woman. This time it’s too close to call, I think.”
Sandiford shook his head. “Not this time. Not the usual suspects. How about a wild card?”
Naismith frowned in concentration. “What do you mean?”
Lowering his voice until it was little more than a whisper, Sandiford said, “How about somebody who’ll draw all the attention? Somebody who’ll carry the can when things go wrong? We don’t want Charles to get into trouble.”
“Why? – I mean, what have you got in mind?” Although he had an idea what Sandiford was hinting at. Already wealthy, like many rich men, Naismith wanted more. You can never have too much money.
“There’s some big planning applications coming up, isn’t there? Don’t worry – my practice has done the legal work on some of them so you’re not betraying any confidences.” Sandiford looked the epitome of the successful small-town solicitor. He was well-fed with a bay-window belly with a thick walrus moustache grown in compensation for his balding dome. He wore a dark grey suit, MCC tie and highly polished shoes.
Naismith nodded. “Possibly. So what are you thinking, Worshipful Master?”
“Somebody too dim to notice he’s being set up for a fall. How about the British National Party fellow – Kenneth Peachornby?”
Naismith nearly choked on his Glenfiddich. “Peachornby! He’s got no chance of winning an election – the man couldn’t get elected as dog-catcher, as the Americans say. He only picks up a few hundred votes from his football hooligan friends and a handful of closet racists. That’s an impossible task.”
The Worshipful Master lowered his voice so even his select group of brethren had to strain their ears to hear. “Elections can be fixed – it’s been done before.”
“Not in Sleaford!”
“Hush, man,” Sandiford said. “It’s a hard charge to prove. Don’t forget, all recent cases involving fraud have been postal voting in mostly Asian areas so nobody’s going to suspect it in a white area like Sleaford.”
Naismith thought for a minute while the others watched. One of the group, a man called Atkinson ordered another round. He passed the drinks around.
“It could be done,” Naismith said. “I’ve got a new guy working on the Urban Council who looks like he’d be up for it. The good thing is, he’s Polish so he has few contacts among the English so he’s not likely to talk. I’ll sound him out.”
“Even better,” said Sandiford. “He sounds like the boy for us.”
Atkinson spoke up. “Only fly in the ointment I can see, old chap, is convincing people that a no-hoper like this Peachornby could actually win the election.”
Naismith laughed. “That’s the easy part. There’s a lot of anti-immigrant feeling about at the moment – you know the type of thing; all the Poles coming over and taking all the jobs. Together with a dislike of the main political parties, then the BNP’s win will look plausible.”
“As the man on the spot, can I leave you to set it up?”
Naismith nodded. “Yes, I’ll get in touch with the Electoral Commission and set the wheels in motion.”
“Think of the money we’ll make, brethren. And remember, not a word to anyone,” Sandiford reminded them.
The group shook their heads.
“We know our obligations. Nothing goes further than these four walls,” Atkinson said.
“Remember, once these plans go through, we’ll be in the big leagues soon. And this fool Peachornby will get to carry the can if it all goes wrong,” said Sandiford.
“Which it won’t,” said Naismith.
Famous last words.
Patryk took Lukasz to see the British National Party rally in Sleaford. The BNP were protesting about all the Poles and Lithuanians taking their jobs. Maybe the BNP had a point but looking at all the facial tattoos and beer bellies on display Patryk wondered how eager they were for work in the first place.
The angry white men had earlier tried to set up an English Defence League branch in Sleaford but there simply weren’t enough Muslims to get angry about. Of course, there was Big Ediz who owned a Turkish restaurant and his sons but only a fool who was looking to spend three months in traction sucking up hospital food through a straw would take those bruisers on.
Further down the fast food chain were the two Cairo hustlers who ran Pyramid Pizzas. They were men who had fingers in many pies. Also, by repute, their enemies left fingers, thumbs and other bodily parts in Pyramid’s kebabs. A bit of extra flavouring to go with the pigeon, rat and stray dog meat. Despite nothing ever being found when the environmental health squad checked their shop out those rumours never went away. So the EDL bunch gave them a swerve as well.
Then there was the man who ran the mini-mart and liquor store. He had brown skin, a beard and turban but he turned out to be a Sikh so the EDL chaps weren’t sure if he counted as a ‘muslin’ or not. Lastly there was the guy who delivered the late night take-away pizzas in his clapped out Ford Fiesta. He looked a bit foreign. But that was about it so the EDL never got off the ground in Sleaford and those who fancied a bit of racist mayhem had to travel to Nottingham or Leicester to satisfy their cravings.
For some reason, the British National Party did a little better. At the rally were about a hundred or more, mostly young and middle-aged skinheads together with some porky women, listening to a fat guy with a boozer’s nose gobbing off about all the Poles. On the stage were banners saying: ‘Vote Peachornby’. Noticing the coach with the Nottingham phone number painted on the side which was parked around the corner, Patryk figured most of these skinheads had been bussed in as a show of support.
On the outskirts of the crowd some elderly people watched with quiet bemusement and a journalist called Butler, who worked for the Sleaford Standard, took notes of the rally to write up for the next issue. A few of the more presentable men distributed BNP election leaflets. However, they still had plenty left to hand out. Local cops wearing hi-viz coats formed a loose cordon around the BNP men, separating them from the small number of Anti-Nazi League hecklers who had bothered showing up. Many of the skinheads had brought flags and banners with them which waved above the rally making splashes of colour against the grey skies.
Lukasz turned to his friend and pointed at some of the flags. He spoke quietly in Polish. “Why are they waving Georgian flags? I didn’t know they had many Georgians in the BNP?”
As well as the flag of England – a simple red cross on a white background – there were other, similar, flags but with smaller red crosses in each corner. The flag of the Caucasian republic of Georgia.
Patryk followed his friend’s finger. He smiled. “I can only think of two reasons.”
“The first is that they are just thick,” said Patryk.
Lukasz thought for a second. “Works for me. The other?”
“They are very, very thick.”
“That sounds more likely,” said Lukasz.
The BNP rally broke up soon after and the police shepherded the skinheads back onto their coach while several other cops held the Anti-Nazi League lot back. Meanwhile, the fat führer and some of his hangers-on came down from their makeshift stage and crossed the square to Andrei’z’ – a wine bar that before its unfortunate and misspelled refurbishment had been a solid pub known as the Fox and Geese. The two Poles watched as the police and some men from the council’s highway maintenance department stacked away the crush barriers and put the square back into some sort of order while others swept up the litter.
“Come on. Let’s go and say hello,” said Patryk after a while.
“Why? Why would we want to meet that racist idiot?”
“Because he’s an idiot. But an idiot with too much money.” Patryk rubbed his thumb over the tips of his first and index fingers. A gesture that meant money. “After all, he’s standing for election and he must know he’s got no hope.”
“I get it. We’re going to help him lighten his wallet?”
Patryk nodded. “Sort of.” Patryk felt a little guilty. He wasn’t telling his friend everything. In particular that he’d been hired to approach the BNP leader.
The two young Poles crossed the litter strewn square and pushed their way into Andrei’z’. The wine bar had only been re-opened six or so months ago but the refurb had been done on the cheap and the joint was already looking worn and tired. The floor tiles were chipped around the edges with the grout already coming away and the nicotine stained anaglypta had merely been whitewashed over. Patryk and Lukasz made their way to the plywood bar. The mahogany stain was fading and the counter top was covered with old water marks from long gone bottles and glasses.
Ignoring the dismal British lagers and bitters on draft, Patryk ordered two bottles of Tyskie Polish lager from the chiller. As the barmaid uncapped them, Patryk leaned forward.
“Where’s Peachornby’s lot?”
Her lip curled with contempt. “In the back room,” the blonde replied in Polish.
“My accent that noticeable?”
“No,” said the barmaid. “It’s very good. But I’m from Warsaw as well, myself, and I can tell.”
Patryk nodded. “Do you think Peachornby could tell I’m Polish?”
The barmaid thought for a moment. “No. I don’t think so. Especially not with the amount he and his lot are putting away.”
Patryk thanked the girl and left her a decent tip. The men finished their drinks and watched as tray after tray of booze was shipped into the back room. They heard raucous singing as the door opened. From time to time skinheads, always singly, made their way to the gents before returning to their back room. This time Lukasz bought a couple more Tyskies.
“We’ve given them long enough,” Patryk said. “Should be well relaxed by now.”
“Hammered, you mean.”
Pushing away from the bar the two young men crossed to the back room.
“Let me do the talking, okay? My accent’s better than yours,” Patryk told his friend who nodded. Lukasz wanted to see what Patryk had in mind as it was unlike his friend to be so cagey. Patryk pushed open the door and entered the back room.
The fat führer, Peachornby, was sitting at the far end of a long table in a pose that he’d taken from studying too many 1930s Bier Keller photos of his hero. Men sat along the table listening to Peachornby as he held forth about immigration and the evils of the European Union. More skins stood around the room, some listening to Peachornby while others talked amongst themselves. All the flags were now furled and propped in the corner.
One of the skinheads looked up as Patryk and Lukasz entered. The man put his arm out, barring access.
“Oi, where d’you think you’re goin’?” the man said by way of greeting. The man was tall, burly under a black North Face quilted jacket. He looked like the bouncer he probably was.
“We saw the rally earlier and thought we’d like to know more. That okay?” said Patryk.
“No. Do we look like journalists?”
The man thought for a moment. Patryk and Lukasz almost heard the cogs turning.
“You’re not undercover cops, then?”
For one moment, Lukasz was tempted to butt in and say, “Yes we are cops and you’re nicked, sunshine.” What did this bouncer expect them to say?
“Listen, mate,” Patryk said. “These bloody Poles come over here and my boss sacked me and my mates at the yard and the next day replaced us all with a bunch of Polack monkeys on minimum wage. I heard your man and I’ve come to sign up.”
The bouncer stepped to one side. A grin crossed his pudgy face. “You’ve come to the right place. Ask Mr. Peachornby for a membership pack.”
Patryk and Lukasz passed a group talking about the ruck at Lincoln City’s last home game against Wrexham and the upcoming scrap against Grimsby away. The man doing the talking had a black eye and was missing several teeth. Prison tattoos scrawled their way up his arms. The men scowled at the two Poles as they passed. Theirs was a locked-down, closed in group. As the Poles waited, Andrei’z’ manager brought in yet another tray of pints and bottles. The man looked harassed. He must be desperate for business to rent out his back room to this bunch, Patryk thought.
Up close, Peachornby looked no better than he had on the podium in the square. Maybe he’d read in a woman’s fashion mag that black is a colour that makes you look slimmer. Or more likely he imagined he looked like the lean, ascetic figure of Sir Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists back in the 1930s. Unfortunately, his physique owed more to Mussolini than Mosley.
The fat führer’s face was jowly and dominated by an inflamed boozer’s nose. He wore a hairpiece that he must have thought made him look like his hero, Adolf Hitler, but to both Patryk and Lukasz it looked like a moulting black cat had chosen his head as a good spot to curl up and die.
A grin rose to Lukasz’s face but he forced it down, determined to follow his friend’s lead.
Peachornby looked up from his harangue. He put a politician’s smile on his face which made it nowhere near his eyes.
“What do you two want?” asked Peachornby. He had the accent of a man who was born on the Fens and never made it off. A man who knew little and cared less for the outside world. Patryk felt more optimistic as he picked up an election leaflet from the stack by Peachornby’s elbow. He passed the leaflet to Lukasz to read.
Below the BNP logo, made up from letters cut from the Union flag, there was a picture of the white cliffs of Dover. The printer had superimposed over the cliffs red graffiti style letters saying ‘GO AWAY WE’RE FULL’. Below that was a picture of a street in London where every face was brown or concealed by a burqa. Lukasz wasn’t sure what Dover and London had to do with an election in Lincolnshire but felt it best to keep quiet.
“Are you really going to win this election?” Patryk asked.
Peachornby bridled at this and, pressing his hands on the table, half rose in his seat.
“Of course. The people of Sleaford have had enough. The people of Lincolnshire have had enough. Now is the time for all true Englishmen to draw a line in the sand; to say enough is enough…”
One of the nearby skinheads leaned forward and gripped Patryk’s arm.
“Oi, mate, I ain’t seen you ‘ere before. What’s yer name?” The man’s words were slightly slurred as if he had been drinking all afternoon. Beer fumes washed over Patryk’s face.
Peachornby frowned at the interruption.
“My name’s Patryk.”
“Patrick? That’s a paddy name, innit? You a Mick, mate?” the skinhead said. He was taller and bulkier than Patryk and leaned over the Pole. If it came to a fight, Patryk knew he and Lukasz would be torn apart.
Patryk shook his head. “I’m from Londonderry. Ulster. I hate the paddies, me.”
Immediately, the skinhead and those nearby started singing, “No surrender, no surrender, no surrender to the IRA…” The song was then taken up by all those in the room, the refrain bouncing off the walls and ceiling. The only one not singing was the fat führer himself. Peachornby shook his head. There was no point carrying on with his speech now.
Patryk leaned forward and passed over a slip of paper with his mobile phone number. “If you’re serious, really serious, about winning this election; give us a call,” he said to Peachornby. “I can help.”
Leaving the still singing skinheads to their songs and football chants, the two Poles edged out of the back room. Outside Andrei’z’, they took several deep lungfuls of clean air before Lukasz screwed up and tossed the BNP election leaflet into the nearest bin.
“We’ve cast the bait. Let’s see if he bites,” Patryk said as the two men crossed the square.
Patryk didn’t hear from Peachornby for the next couple of days. During that time, several election leaflets from different parties were pushed through the letter box together with the usual takeaway menus. They all went, unread, into the recycling bin.
Sprawled out on the couch, Patryk aimed the remote like a gun and scrolled through the TV channels looking for something, anything worth watching. He wished he could afford to subscribe to a Polish language satellite service.
“Leave it alone, can’t you?” complained Kassia in Polish. His girlfriend was ironing a stack of shirts and had been enjoying the dancing show on BBC1 before Patryk came home from work. Patryk looked up at her and smiled. Kassia was a good looking girl, not over tall but stacked in all the right places. She was blonde – and not out of a bottle, neither – with clear blue-grey eyes. He was one lucky man.
“Tell you what; stick the kettle on, love, will you and we’ll have a cup of tea?” Patryk said.
Before Kassia could say anything to this, both looked at his phone on the low table between them as it shrilled and vibrated. Patryk picked the Nokia up but didn’t recognise the number.
“Hello?” he said guardedly in English. Kassia shot him a look at his use of that language as he usually spoke Polish to all their friends.
“Is that Patrick?” Patryk smiled. He recognised that Fenland accent. Peachornby had risen to the bait of an election victory.
“Yes. Are you interested in what we talked about the other day?”
There was a pause. “I have a lot of enemies. How do I know this isn’t a set-up?” asked Peachornby. That was a good question, Patryk thought. The only one that really mattered.
“I understand. Do you want to meet? Somewhere safe…” he started.
“I know my home’s safe as I have it swept for bugs. You can’t be too careful these days as I know MI6 would be very interested in what I know. Very interested. Let’s meet at nine tonight. But don’t waste my time or else…”
“You’ll be glad we met,” confirmed Patryk before Peachornby gave his address and closed the call. Fool. From watching James Bond films, even a Pole like Patryk knew that MI6 dealt with foreign threats while it was MI5 who looked after internal security. Even so, he doubted that MI5 took any more than the most casual interest in Peachornby.
“Who was that? What are you up to?” asked Kassia placing the iron on its stand. Her English was as good as Patryk’s.
“Oh no-one much. A friend of a friend who needs a favour.”
“You’re not up to your old tricks again? I thought you’d put all that behind you.”
Patryk put on an innocent look as he picked up his leather jacket from the end of the couch and checked its pockets for his wallet and keys. “Me? No, just helping out an old mate.”
Kassia watched as Patryk closed their apartment’s door behind him. Men! As soon as her fella was out of the room she switched back to BBC 1 to watch the dancers with their sparkly costumes.
Patryk called Lukasz before sticking the key in the Ford Transit’s ignition. “Game on – the fool’s bitten. Have you got the samples…?” He spoke in Polish.
“Sure. Just as you asked.”
Patryk drove through the centre of Sleaford to Eastgate; picked up his friend and then headed north along the B1188 to the village of Dunston. The countryside was as flat and featureless as anything he’d seen in northern Poland and the fields separated by narrow creeks stretched out to the far horizon. The wind had got up and the empty van rocked slightly in the stronger gusts. Before long, Patryk turned off the B1188 and onto a narrow single lane country road. No other cars followed and for a while they felt like they were the only two left alive in the world.
Dunston came up a few miles later and it wasn’t too difficult to pick out Peachornby’s property. A flagpole with the cross of St George billowing in the wind together with a row of ‘Vote BNP’ campaign placards facing the road gave the game away. It was the only place with either accessory.
Lukasz eyed the house. It was a large, fairly modern brick built bungalow with wide bay windows on either side of the front door and a dormer set in the roof. Light shone through the curtains of one of the bays. A Jaguar X-Type in glacier blue crouched under a car-port to the side. Its personalised plate started with the letters BNP. Parked half on the drive, half on the lawn was a red Rover 75; several years old now but it looked well maintained.
Patryk turned up the gravelled driveway and parked directly outside the front porch. Confident. As if he owned the place. He pressed the doorbell and the sounds of ‘Rule Britannia’ played throughout the house. Almost instantly, the front door was opened by one of the more presentable skinheads. The man’s hair was longer – maybe a number four cut – and he had no facial tattoos or piercings and wore a clean long-sleeved white shirt over black jeans. Lukasz wondered what the shirt concealed. The man stepped to one side to allow Patryk and Lukasz to enter.
“This way,” the man said with a scowl as he led the two Poles through the house to what had once been a bedroom but had been converted into an office. His accent was similar to his leader’s – flat as a fluke. He knocked on a white-painted door and waited to be admitted. Peachornby stood behind an old-fashioned desk and held out his hand. Both Patryk and Lukasz shook. Peachornby’s grip was clammy but surprisingly strong. Meanwhile the skinhead minder stood by the door, his thickset body blocking their exit. His tattooed hands were crossed in front of him.
“Welcome to my castle…”
Castle? thought Lukasz. It’s just a bungalow.
“Please sit down,” commanded Peachornby, pointing to two hardwood dining chairs set before the desk. “Something to drink?”
“Sure. A beer would be good,” Patryk said, looking at a bronze bust of Hitler that was being used as a paperweight.
“Fetch our guests their drinks, Mason,” Peachornby commanded. Patryk wasn’t sure if Mason was the man’s first or last name. He didn’t suppose it mattered too much.
The skinhead by the door crossed to a wooden globe in the corner, removed the northern hemisphere and took out two bottles of Carlsberg. Mason cracked off the tops and handed the bottles over.
“Carlsberg. A fine English lager,” said Mason as he did so before returning to his place by the door. Peachornby himself took a Glenfiddich. His nose seemed to glow more brightly as he sipped.
Lukasz knew that Carlsberg was originally a Danish brand but thought it best to keep quiet and leave the talking to Patryk. And Glenfiddich was a single malt scotch so there was nothing English to drink.
The two men glanced around as they drank down the necks of the bottles. The office walls were decorated with a number of flags. Behind the desk, taking pride of place was a large, colourful Union flag. Opposite, in direct line of sight of anyone sitting behind the desk that cared to look up was the red, white and black of the Nazi swastika. The other walls were covered with the stars and bars of the battle flag of the Confederacy, the red hand of Ulster, the drop of blood within a white cross denoting the Ku Klux Klan and an upside down apartheid era South African flag.
Discreetly, Lukasz kicked Patryk’s ankle and gestured to the upside down flag. Patryk nodded. He got the message. There were also a couple of other flags neither man recognised but they appeared to be variants of the swastika.
“Have you filled in the membership forms?” asked Peachornby, lifting one out from under the Hitler bust.
Patryk shook his head. “Not yet.”
“You should. If you care about your country. All true British patriots would if they knew what was really going on. Did you know all governments are controlled by the European Union and their aim is to put an end to all nation states – not just us but France, Germany, Spain; everyone – by unc… uncontrolled immigration and diluting out the true Nordic races by shipping in sub-human hordes from Africa and Asia? Wiping out our true genetic heritage. Did you know that over ten per cent of the population of Sweden are now muslin?”
The light of fanaticism shone out of Peachornby’s eyes. Lukasz looked up and noticed the man’s hairpiece was lower than it had been before making him look stupid as well as dangerous.
Patryk raised his hand. “I totally agree, Mr. Peachornby. Send them all back – it’s the only answer. And the race traitors who breed with these… coloureds.” He kicked Lukasz gently on the ankle. Lukasz held his silence.
“And the Poles,” said Mason leaning by the door frame. “Those Slavs might be white but they’re just as bad. They’re all over here, taking our jobs, driving down wages…”
“Yeah, them too. Send them back on the first boat,” agreed Patryk.
“And then I’d pull the plug half way across the North Sea. Drown the lot of ‘em,” laughed the skinhead.
“Good idea, mate,” said Lukasz, getting into the spirit of the conversation. He forced himself to unclench his fist and look relaxed.
Peachornby leaned over the desk. “So what makes you think I need help winning this election?”
“You called me,” said Patryk simply.
That made Peachornby think. The man was brighter than his followers but not by much. A sixty watt bulb compared with a forty watt.
“We’re going to win,” said Peachornby confidently. “Our time has come. It’s like it’s the 1930s again. The collapse of the banking system, long dole queues, the way the existing political parties are failing the people leaving space for a man of vision to step into the breach…”
Patryk leaned forwards also getting right in the fat führer’s face before the man could launch into a full blown rant about the Third Reich or whatever. Sensing a threat, the skinhead, Mason, stepped forward but Peachornby waved him back.
“No you’re not. You have no chance and you must know that.”
Peachornby sat back. Shocked as if he’d been slapped around the face. Cold reality poured over him like a bucket of water. His mouth opened as his brain tried to find the right words that a man of destiny would say. It was Patryk who spoke next, filling the silence.
“Look at the results of the last elections for mayor of Sleaford Urban Council. Labour: 2,385, Conservative: 1,882, Liberal Democrats: 769, BNP: 361. I assume the one was your wife?” Patryk had memorised these figures.
“I’m not married.”
That figured, Patryk thought. “At least you beat the Greens who only picked up 217 votes.”
“That was then. Five years ago. Econ… economic conditions are different now. People will see things differently now,” blustered Peachornby.
“How many election leaflets did you give out the other day?” Lukasz asked. His accent didn’t matter so much now there wasn’t a load of boozed-up skinheads looking for trouble in the room. Earlier, Patryk had primed Lukasz to ask that question. Peachornby knew there were box loads still out in his garage.
“Well, they’re for pushing through letter boxes. Direct marketing – it’s more effective,” said Peachornby. Privately, he was disappointed that more hadn’t been handed out at the rally.
“So. Do you really want to win or spend your money just picking up some protest votes?”
Peachornby glanced at Mason still propping up the door frame.
“How do we know this isn’t a set-up? You could be two journalists from the Sleaford Standard trying to drop us in it. The Standard is owned by a multi-national pub…”
Mason brightened up at that word. He could sink a few jars right now.
Peachornby carried on. “…publishing company which is owned by the Jewish-Marxist-Masonic organisations who are determined to destroy our pure Aryan way of life…”
Once again, Patryk decided to cut off the fool before he launched into the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and how the Jews secretly control the world from their underground lair beneath a mountain in Colorado or whatever else was coming up. Patryk took out his mobile phone, unclipped the battery and laid it on Peachornby’s desk. He stood up and spread his arms wide. An instant later, Lukasz followed suit.
“Search us. We’re not wired. Nothing you say leaves this room.”
Peachornby gestured to Mason who crossed the room and expertly patted down the two Poles. Both Patryk and Lukasz reckoned Mason had been on the receiving end of many such ‘pat-downs’ from the cops and had learned the techniques from them.
“They’re clean, boss,” said Mason after a couple of minutes.
“All right. If you think I have no chance of winning – and I’m not saying you’re right – how can you fix it so I will win?”
Mason stayed close by. Alert and ready for violence if his boss ordered it. He was a veteran of countless Lincoln City Football Club terrace fights and odds of five or six to one didn’t scare him none. The other week he and two mates chased a dozen Sandgrounders from Southport out of town. Bunch of posh Merseyside pansies – not even real Scousers. Mason could have taken them ponces all by himself. He knew he could take these two chancers if Peachornby ordered it.
“Let me ask you a question. On election days, what happens?”
Peachornby thought for a moment. He rubbed his nose, took another slug of whisky and set the glass down by the Hitler bust.
“Well, people cast their votes and then they’re counted…,” Peachornby tailed off. It was obvious to Lukasz that the fool hadn’t given much thought to the actual process.
“And what happens to the ballot boxes after they’re collected from the polling stations until they are dropped off at the Town Hall for counting?”
Peachornby scratched his hair-piece. It slipped a little lower over his brow making him look like a slightly retarded Neanderthal now. Silence filled the room.
“I’ll tell you,” said Patryk. “The boxes are collected in a council van. The driver takes a designated route…,” a blank look from his audience, “… a route set by the council until he’s picked up all the boxes and taken them to the Town Hall where they are signed for before the boxes are opened and the votes inside counted.”
Give me strength, thought Lukasz. Even a toddler in Kassia’s kindergarten class would have put two and two together by now.
“So who’s looking after the boxes while they are being transported? The driver and an observer in the back, that’s who. And that’s where we come in. I’m due to drive the van that night and Lukasz here is the watcher. And while we’re alone in the van, what’s to stop a load of extra voting papers being pushed into the ballot boxes?” It was a little more complex than that but Patryk didn’t think either Peachornby or Mason’s brains could cope with very much more.
“So what you’re saying is you could stuff the boxes?” said Peachornby. A light dawned in his eyes.
Give that man a bun, thought Lukasz.
Give that man another bun. With pink icing on it.
“But what are you going to stuff the boxes with?” Mason asked. Patryk revised his opinion of the young man. Maybe Mason had five, maybe ten more brain cells than he’d thought before, giving him an I.Q. well into double figures.
“Toilet tissue. What do you think?” Patryk saw Mason clench his fists with anger but the skinhead remained by the door frame. “Show Mr. Peachornby, Lukasz.”
Slowly, Lukasz took a thin sheaf of papers from his jacket pocket. He spread them out on Peachornby’s desk. Peachornby leaned forward and even Mason moved closer. Peachornby picked one up, held it to the light and inspected the white paper closely.
“It’s a voting paper. And it’s even got the pressings in the top right corner,” he said.
Patryk picked up another paper. “As you can see, all the candidates names are on as well: Conservative, Labour, the lot.”
“It looks genuine. Where did you get it?” Peachornby said, amazed.
“If it looks genuine, then that’s because it is. Lukasz here works for the firm that does the printing for Lincolnshire County Council…”
“I made an unfortunate error with a test batch and printed off way too many,” Lukasz interrupted. “And then these fell into my lunch bag rather than the shredder and well…”
“Here we are,” Patryk finished.
Peachornby licked his lips and screwed up his eyes. The man only needed one little nudge to seal the deal.
Patryk leaned forwards again. “Who was it said ‘real power is never given – it’s taken’? If you want to become mayor, ask yourself one question: what would Hitler have done? Would he have hung back?” He leaned back. He’d played his ace – using the magical name of Hitler.
Mason stepped up to the desk. “What’s in it for you?”
Patryk looked up and smiled. He addressed his remarks to Peachornby. The organ grinder, not the monkey. Although in this case the organ grinder had barely more brain cells than the monkey. “I work for the council but I also work part-time for a ‘local businessman’…,” he let that phrase hang in the air for a moment. There was only one thing meant by an unnamed ‘local businessman’ and everybody in the room understood it perfectly. That wasn’t quite true but it might scare this fool off from inquiring too closely.
“From time to time, after you win, he may want a planning application to go through or a contract to be awarded to a friend. Maybe give his wife or girlfriend a nice holiday in Italy – at the rate payers expense – visiting our twin town, Fusignano. You know how it goes.”
“One hand washes the other,” said Lukasz.
Peachornby nodded assent. “So that means I’ll – the BNP, I mean – will win this election?”
“And when people see the BNP’s success in Sleaford, you’ll get more votes in future,” said Patryk. “People like to support a winner.” Lukasz thought this very unlikely but saw the two BNP men’s eyes light up at the prospect. Lukasz reckoned Peachornby was even now rehearsing his victory speech, imagining himself standing on the Town Hall’s balcony as if he was standing on a podium at Nuremberg; the massed crowds on the square all ‘sieg heiling’ their new führer.
“Sure – but we’ve got to win first, boss,” Mason reminded Peachornby.
“Only say the word and it’s in the bag,” said Patryk.
Even Peachornby only had to think for a moment. He stood up from behind his desk, sucked in his gut, gazed into the middle distance with an eagle-eyed, far-seeing look worthy of any dictator worth his salt.
Patryk thought for a moment. This bit wasn’t part of the script but he reckoned his backers wouldn’t find out. It was a risk worth taking – and so far it was him and Lukasz taking all the risks, not that bunch of suited and booted wheeler-dealers. So he felt entitled to a little extra dollop of cream on top. “Won’t come cheap though,” he said. “That’s if you’re serious.” Lukasz glanced over but said nothing.
Peachornby lowered his gaze to Patryk’s face. “I am serious. So what’s the damage?”
“A grand.” Earlier, he was going to ask for a monkey but if he asked for five hundred – a monkey – then he might end up taking Mason home with him instead. Looking round the well made furniture in this room; it was obvious that Peachornby could easily afford a thousand.
Mason stepped forwards with his fists clenched. Up close, Lukasz spotted blue-inked tattoos covering the man’s knuckles. “Shall I throw the cheeky beggars out, boss?”
Peachornby waved his man back. “No, that’s rea… reason… okay. I’ve got it here.” Peachornby opened a desk drawer, unlocked a cash box and took out a banded stack of twenties. “Here you are. Now, make sure I get the right result. Otherwise, I know people, you know.” He held out his paw. Patryk shook.
Peachornby’s hand felt hot and Patryk imagined for a moment that he was shaking with the Devil.
“Hey, boss, when we win, will you sort me out with a job on the corpy? The bins is good money.”
Patryk was in the yard behind the Town Hall loading up his van with archive boxes filled with old files to take onto the Lincolnshire County Council offices. He looked up as a shadow fell over him. A man wearing a smartly hand-tailored three piece business suit leaned against the Transit’s side.
“Did he bite?”
Patryk stood and stretched his back. He looked up at the other man. James Naismith was the Deputy Mayor of Sleaford Urban Council. Only thirty-two or thirty-three years old, the man had made a success of his life. Nature had been kind to him and fortune even kinder. Naismith stood six-two and had an athletic, gym-toned body. He swept his hair back. No signs of grey or premature balding. Patryk wondered if Naismith coloured his hair – the man was vain enough – but decided that he had been blessed with the right genes.
Naismith smiled with a devastating grin. The man was single and Patryk knew he could have nearly any woman working in the Council offices. Even the married ones. Maybe especially the married ones. It also helped that the man was almost a millionaire. He had inherited a small equestrian centre and stud based out on his farm and on top of that, and his farming subsidies, he had his salary as Deputy Mayor. You could tell by his effortless confidence that the man had money behind him.
“Yes. Peachornby couldn’t resist. His eyes lit up like Skegness illuminations,” Patryk said. “But what I don’t understand, Mr. Naismith, is why you don’t become mayor yourself? You’d easily win so why do you want that…,” he paused for a moment, “…that racist idiot to become Mayor instead?”
Naismith shook out a Lambert and Butler, lit it with a gold lighter engraved with his name in ornate script and blew smoke up to the sky. “You’ve answered your own question. It’s because he’s an idiot, that’s why. He’ll be the front man drawing all the flak while I’ll keep a low profile making all the real decisions.”
“But why him? Why not offer being mayor to the Green party or that guy standing as an independent?”
“Because they would refuse and call the cops. Only that fool Peachornby is stupid and greedy enough that he’d go for it,” said Naismith. He spoke quietly as a couple of secretaries had popped out for a crafty smoke break. The women smiled at Naismith as he turned his high-wattage grin on them. He tossed over his lighter and the women made a big show of lighting their cigarettes, placing them in their mouths and drawing deep on the smoke before exhaling. It was very obvious what they were suggesting. Naismith smiled but turned away.
“Well, you know best, Mr. Naismith. I’m only a van man so what do I know? But I hope you… we’re… not making a big mistake here. I wouldn’t trust Peachornby further than I could throw him.”
“Neither would I. But I don’t have to trust him. As long as he does what he’s told and doesn’t realise what’s going on behind the scenes, then we’ve nothing to fear.”
“That’s what I’m worried about, Mr, Naismith. What if he works it out?” Patryk finished loading, climbed up into the cab and drove out of the yard. As he did so, he watched Naismith stub out his cigarette and go talk to the women. By now both were giggling coquettishly and flicking their hair. They stayed out after Naismith returned to his office.
“That cleft chin, Tess! and those long eyelashes – to die for!”
“And gold flecks in his eyes, that half smile. Ooh, he should be in the movies!”
“Big ear lobes, too – that tells you something.”
“Oh shut up, Donna! You’re always mucking in the gutter.”
It’s not like election fever ever gripped Sleaford. Both the Sleaford Standard and the Sleaford Target tried to drum up interest if not enthusiasm but both papers found it hard going even after they ran a series of interviews with all the candidates.
The Conservative candidate, a man called Charles Langton-Gore who owned a local estate agency, emphasised cutting taxes and repealing the ban on fox hunting. Langton-Gore was after the country voters in the outlying villages but as he probably had nearly one hundred per cent support in the rural areas anyway it was unlikely he picked up too many extra votes from the town.
Danielle Rice, the Guardian reading lady from the Labour Party campaigned on a platform of increasing free child care facilities and better public transport. It was probably purely coincidental that she was a single mother who couldn’t drive. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrat was a local General Practitioner who lambasted the government over its treatment of the National Health Service and how it was grossly underfunded. He had strange wandering eyes and attractive young women usually thought it best to take a chaperone when they visited his surgery.
And then it was Peachornby’s turn. Someone from the British National Party’s headquarters wrote Peachornby’s piece for him. They felt, probably correctly, that a misspelled rant about how the Judeo-Marxist-Masonic conspiracy was determined to eradicate the Anglo-Saxon race and that Enoch Powell was right all along wasn’t the message a modern, forward looking party should be sending out.
So instead his pre-prepared blurb was about the recent influx of eastern Europeans and the pressure put on schools, housing and public services. But anyone capable of reading between the lines would understand that the sub-text was still ‘send them all back’.
Nobody took much notice of or remembered the Green Party’s ex-hippy or the independent candidates.
On the Thursday of election day itself, cars with loud hailers attached to the roofs toured the streets of Sleaford. The Conservative preferred the traditional hymn Jerusalem, the Labour lady some Ibiza techno-trance tune from her teenage years in the early 1990s that reminded some people in the town of their nights loved up on Ecstasy at illegal raves out in the fields. Maybe that was her intention.
Peachornby wanted the Nazi party’s anthem of the Horst Wessel Lied but that was overruled by the BNP’s headquarters team. Instead he chose Song to the Evening Star by Wagner. Maybe he thought Germanic plus opera would make the association in the voters’ minds with both Hitler and Mussolini. Two bites of the cherry, so to speak. If anyone understood the connection they kept it to themselves.
Last minute pamphlets were pushed through letterboxes; unsuspecting shoppers were waylaid in the town centre and asked if they had voted, infirm voters were ferried to the polling stations. Probably the only people really enjoying the day were the school children given the day off to allow their classrooms to be used as polling stations. They milled around Sleaford’s town centre taking no notice of the electioneering.
The cops on duty knew they would be busy dealing with low level crimes and disturbances. A few cases of shoplifting, one drunk and disorderly and a couple of lads who got into a bit of pushing and shoving which the rookie constable decided to treat as an assault. The booking sergeant at the custody suite sent the brawling lads home after a stern reprimand. Then he took the rookie constable into an empty cell and explained a few matters to him. Forcefully. The rookie received the message loud and clear and kept his head down for the rest of his shift.
As he had to collect the ballot boxes from the polling stations at ten that night, Naismith gave Patryk the afternoon off. So he took the van to the Tesco Extra store on Northgate and had the gang of Poles usually to be found hanging about at one end of the car park wash it down and then valet the cab. Patryk knew their tricks and after he spoke to them in their own language they did a thorough job. He didn’t tip them and they didn’t expect one.
After getting his van cleaned, Patryk drove over to the printers where Lukasz worked, timing his arrival for the two o’clock shift change. The workers flocked out in droves, some sparking up their smokes immediately upon leaving the building, others waiting until they were outside the fence. Lukasz himself walked out, taking no notice of Patryk and hung about the bus stop with a few other non-drivers.
The printer’s factory was in a complex of industrial warehouses on the north-eastern side of Sleaford, all of them painted a sort of dreary greenish-grey. The smell of distilled alcohol fumed from one the opposite units and two hard looking men hand-balled boxes into a beat up looking Luton van. Patryk had once walked over and the men claimed they were making paint thinners for a well-known commercial manufacturer. But Patryk heard the clinking of glass coming from the boxes as they were loaded and didn’t think a commercial paint manufacturer would buy thinners packaged in vodka bottles.
Reversing into one of the loading bays, Patryk unlocked the Transit’s back doors then walked over to the front of the printer’s and slapped a receipt down on the counter top. Through the reception window, he could keep an eye on the parking lot.
He watched as a forklift truck loaded a pallet of cardboard boxes into the back of another white Transit. The boxes were marked up with the logo of one of the High Street banks and Patryk guessed they contained advertising leaflets. The forklift reversed, its banksman’s siren bleeping rhythmically until it turned around before disappearing back into the unit for a second load.
Eventually, the receptionist came from out of a side door. She was young and pretty and looked flushed as she readjusted her blouse. Patryk didn’t need to look at her name badge which was pinned over her breast to know her name was Sienna. That girl had a reputation in town. Sienna looked at Patryk’s receipt and hurried back into the main body of the printer’s clutching it in her hand. He admired her pert bum moving under her pencil skirt. As the door opened, Patryk heard the whir and whiz and clatter of printing presses beyond.
Soon after Sienna returned. “I’m sorry, sir, I can’t find your order. I’ve asked one of the print supervisors to look for it, if you don’t mind waiting a few minutes.”
“That’s all right. I’ll wait by my van,” Patryk said, pushing his way back outside. Putting his hands in his pockets, he strolled over to the bank’s white Transit. As he did so, the forklift came out of the main vehicular door and approached at speed. Its driver nodded to him. On top of the shrink-wrapped pallet was a single box. Its whiteness stood out stark against the brownness of the pallet.
The other Transit driver glanced up from his copy of the Daily Star. “What’s that?” he asked, pointing to the box. “I’m only here for three pallets, mate.”
“Dunno, mate,” replied the forklift driver as he lowered the forks and guided the last pallet into the back of the Transit. He jumped down from the open cab, swung himself up monkey-like into the back of the Transit and fetched down the white box.
“Well, spotted mate,” said the forklift operator. “It’s not for you. He glanced at the printed address label in the document wallet. “Sleaford Urban Council. Oh, I’ll take it back inside.”
Patryk stepped forward. “Sleaford Council? That’s me. The girl in the office said it had been mislaid.”
The forklift driver took one look at Patryk’s van, which was prominently marked with the coat of arms above a big logo saying ‘Sleaford Urban Council’. There was no doubt in the man’s mind that a box marked for Sleaford Urban Council should be taken away by a van belonging to that organisation.
“Here you are then,” he said, handing the box over to Patryk who in turn stowed it in the back. Patryk locked up and then returned to the reception foyer. After waiting a few minutes, he rang the bell and Sienna hurried back out. Her lipstick appeared more smudged than before and she was tucking in the tail of her blouse.
“I’m so sorry, sir, we’re still looking in dispatch but they say they’ve not seen it…”
Patryk smiled to himself. He knew what that print supervisor had been looking for and it had been Sienna’s box, not his. He waved away her apologies.
“That’s all right. It was mixed up with the bank’s leaflets but I’ve got it now. So, if you could just stamp my receipt as I’m behind schedule now?”
The girl smiled with relief. It didn’t look good for the printer’s efficiency if they got a name for mislaying customer’s orders. This was a family firm and Patryk had heard that Sienna was the owner’s niece or cousin’s daughter or something – some relative anyway – and would probably get an executive post at some time in the future. Unless she caught pregnant first.
Sienna disappeared back into the factory and once again Patryk heard the busy hum of machinery. He hoped he wouldn’t have to wait too long while she renewed relations with the print supervisor but she came back within two minutes. A big blue ‘COLLECTED’ had been stamped on his receipt.
Patryk looked at the form as he crossed the tarmac to his van. It was for something as mundane as a box of envelopes stamped up with the crest and name of Sleaford Urban Council together with its new slogan of ‘We are a Fairtrade town’. But what filled that box was nothing as harmless as envelopes.
It was the paper equivalent of trinitrotoluene, commonly known as T.N.T. What was inside would blow a hole in local democracy in the same way as a few pounds of T.N.T. would crack open a strongbox. And in the same way that a hole in a safe will let the cracksman take the money or jewellery inside, so the papers in this box would allow Naismith to take total control of Sleaford itself.
Patryk pulled up by the bus stop and Lukasz climbed into the cab. Patryk was struck by how honest Lukasz appeared. A look that he was sure Naismith would find a use for. Lukasz was tall, slim and handsome. With his swept-back floppy hair and perfect teeth he looked like the hero of one of Kassia’s favourite rom-coms.
“Got it?” Lukasz asked his friend.
“Sure. Like taking candy from a baby.” Patryk drove back to his apartment, unloaded the box and then he, Lukasz and Kassia spent the most boring afternoon of their lives marking X’s onto the blank ballot papers in the space next to the name of Peachornby, the BNP Candidate.
Sometimes they used their right hands, sometimes their left. Sometimes they made the X’s as big as possible, filling the entire space, other times little tiny x’s. Firm dominant X’s contrasted with shaky, spidery X’s. Anything to make the marks look varied. Anything to make them look genuine. Anything to pass later scrutiny.
“These blanks are really good,” said Patryk. “You’ve even put in the little hole punches in the top corner like they would have.”
“That was the hard part,” admitted Lukasz. “Had to set up an old-fashioned hand press one night shift to get them right. If I hadn’t the returning officer would smell a rat straight away.”
“Who is the returning officer?” asked Kassia as she stacked a completed pile to one side of the table. She stood, shaking her hand free of cramp.
“Who do you think? The Deputy Mayor – Mr. Naismith himself,” replied Patryk. “As you’re on your feet, why don’t you put the kettle on, love.”
Kassia glowered at her fella but was glad to get away from marking the voting slips.
“Then we’re home free,” said Lukasz with a grin.
“We’ll have to see – this is only the start of it,” said Patryk as he marked up yet another X.
Once they had finished marking all the X’s against Peachornby’s name then they had to fold the forms up into quarters, again trying to make the folds look different. Some neatly folded into exactly symmetrical quarters, others roughly folded as if a bored drunk had done the job. If marking the X’s was boring work, then folding the papers tested their patience to the limits.
Eventually, all the completed ballot papers were placed in a box labelled ‘Heinz Baked Beans’ picked up earlier from the Tesco Extra. As Kassia cooked dinner, the two men relaxed on the couch watching a DVD.
It was dark when Patryk and Lukasz stood and put on their jackets. Patryk ducked his neck and slipped his Sleaford Urban Council pass over his neck. He handed a temporary pass to Lukasz. Patryk kissed Kassia goodnight. “Don’t wait up – I may be late. But tomorrow we control Sleaford.”
“No you won’t – Naismith will. Don’t ever forget that, love,” Kassia said as she stretched up on tiptoes to kiss Patryk on his lips.
Kassia leaned out of the apartment window and watched the two men load the full box into the van. Patryk looked up and blew her a kiss. Then they drove off. Men, she thought, men and their stupid power games. All the same, it would be great if Patryk was able to ride on Mr. Naismith’s coat tails and make some decent money for a change.
They’d be able to move to a nice house, maybe with a little garden and she’d be able to wire more money back home. Her younger sister, Dzenetta, had just had a baby and could do with a helping hand. Kassia closed the window, made a fresh cup of filter coffee then sat on the couch and enjoyed the luxury of having the TV’s remote control all to herself.
Meanwhile, Patryk and Lukasz checked Naismith’s map. The location of all the polling stations had been marked in red. Most were sited in local schools or church halls but one was placed in the communal centre of an apartment block.
A few minutes after ten pm Patryk pulled up outside Church Lane primary school. Easy to find as it was actually on Church Lane. He leaped out of the cab and hurried through the open fire exit which was being used as the polling station’s main entrance.
The room’s walls were covered with childish finger paintings and the alphabet, in both upper and lower cases, ran along two walls together with the numbers from one to twenty. In one corner was the cosy area with a set of low chairs covered with stuffed toys that looked like they’d come off second best after a car park punch-up with Mason and the rest of Peachornby’s BNP thugs. Instead of which the cuddlies had taken years of beatings off reception age school kids. The room smelled of plasticine, floor polish and fruit.
Patryk crossed to the desk where a grey haired woman and a bored looking young man waited for him.
“Busy day?” Patryk asked.
“No. Turnout was low – no-one’s interested in local democracy any more,” sniffed the woman.
“Why bother? People know they’re all a bunch of incompetent lying crooks out for what they can get so what’s the point?” said the young man. His bookmark was more than half way through the latest Andy McNab thriller.
Patryk thought the bored young man’s summary had hit the nail dead centre on the head.
“Martin,” the woman snapped.
“I’ve got a lot to do tonight so I’ll sign for the ballot box now,” Patryk said before an argument could break out.
The box was a large black plastic crate. The slot for the ballot papers to be dropped in had been sealed as had the lid to the body of the crate. The seals were secured to plastic cable ties. The woman handed over a piece of paper and Patryk signed for receipt of the ballot box.
“I’ll take this receipt to the council offices tomorrow,” the woman told Patryk.
“That’s great – put it in the returning officer’s in-tray,” Patryk said.
The woman sniffed again. “I’ve been the presiding officer of a polling station for over thirty years now. I know what I’m doing, young man.”
Martin already had his coat on with his book in his pocket. He held open the door to let Patryk back into the school’s car park. As Patryk did so he saw the lights go out in the classroom behind him.
“The lights are going out all over Sleaford. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime,” Patryk murmured in English. Where had that come from?
“What was that, mate?” Martin asked.
“Nothing. Doesn’t matter.” Patryk hoped that what he was doing wouldn’t matter too much in the great scheme of things. After all, this was only one small English market town, not a whole country.
Patryk placed the ballot box into the back of the Sleaford Council Transit. Lukasz was crouching in the back and he pulled the box towards him. A million candle power halogen lamp dangled from a hook on the van’s plywood ceiling. It cast an intensely bright but shifting light.
Lukasz held a razor-sharp craft knife and a battery powered soldering iron. A spare set of council seals lay on the floor next to his feet in case of emergencies but both Patryk and Lukasz hoped it wouldn’t come to that. The Heinz Beans box lay open and Patryk caught sight of the pre-filled voting forms inside.
“We haven’t much time – I can’t delay more than a few minutes without people getting suspicious,” Patryk reminded his friend.
“I know – I’ve been practising, remember? Now drive.”
Patryk slammed the van doors closed, jumped into the cab, engaged first, and drove down Eastgate, south over the railway lines and then Grantham Road to the next polling station serving the Quarrington ward. Meanwhile, in the Transit’s back, Lukasz carefully slit all the plastic seals securing the lid to the box and lifted it off. The box was mostly fresh air but there were still a few hundred folded up votes inside.
Lukasz scooped up a double handful of fake votes from the Heinz Beans box and dropped them into the ballot box. A few fluttered down, outside the crate. He looked at the mound inside and added a few more for good measure. Then Lukasz jammed the lid tight onto the black crate and catching up the ends of the plastic cable tie securing the first seal he touched the tip of the soldering iron to its ends. Instantly they fused together. Moving around the box, he did the same with all the other seals.
Running the ball of his thumb over the seals, the edge of the plastic ties felt rough where they had been cut and then fused. Taking up a piece of fine grain sandpaper, Lukasz gently sanded the edges until his handiwork was less obvious. Satisfied, he lifted the ballot box and gave it a good shake to scatter the voting slips inside about.
Just as he finished, Lukasz felt the Transit slow to a stop and the handbrake ratcheting up. He flexed his muscles and allowed himself a swig of water. It was going to be a busy hour or so in the back of the van.
Patryk leaped out of the cab and trotted over to the second polling station. Another Sleaford Council van as well as a few cars were parked outside and for a moment Patryk’s heart leaped into his mouth. Had someone else come to take the ballot box? No. Impossible, he told himself. Not in a well run democracy like Britain. Only he, Patryk, had the authority to collect the ballot boxes. All the same, he was worried as he hurried towards the polling station’s open door.
This was in an Anglican church hall also on Grantham Road and to Patryk’s eye the building looked like almost like a little brick church in its own right. Arched windows were set in both sides and through them, he saw a couple of council workmen taking down the plywood polling booths and stacking them up. That explained the other van. His heart slowed to a more normal rate.
Patryk let himself in. A stage was built up at one end and moth-eaten purple velvet curtains screened off what was behind. The polling officer, a portly guy in a brown three-piece suit that was new twenty years ago ostentatiously checked his watch.
“This is highly irregular. On all previous elections, I have always taken the ballot box myself to the Town Hall,” the man said as soon as Patryk handed over the form.
“Efficiency. The returning officer wants to try a new way. This way, all the boxes arrive at the Town Hall at once.”
“Bloody Naismith,” the man muttered under his breath. Patryk reckoned the man was only upset about losing his overtime and mileage allowance.
The polling station officer fussily insisted that Patryk check the seals with him and the man fiddled with them, making sure that they were all tight and secure. Patryk checked and double-checked his watch. Eventually, all the same, the man signed the receipt, checked Patryk’s counter-signature and folded it up neatly before placing it into a manilla envelope. Patryk lifted up the ballot box. As before, it felt light as if local democracy wasn’t the biggest concern amongst Sleaford’s citizens on a cold, damp Thursday. Patryk smiled and hurried out to the van. He slung it into the back.
“You’ll have to hurry, Lukasz. The next polling station is only round the corner. Okay?”
Lukasz nodded and immediately cut the plastic cable ties before wrenching off the lid and stuffing in more bundles of votes for Peachornby. He swirled the forms around like a blender before slamming on the lid and resealing the ties. But before he’d finished, the Transit had stopped and a third box was thrown in.
“Hurry it, man – we haven’t got all night,” Patryk called.
Lukasz didn’t bother replying. He hadn’t got the time. Instead, he bent to his work and picked up his soldering iron.
The next couple of pick ups went smoothly. Patryk apologised for the delay, handed over the receipts and collected the ballot boxes. The polling station officers already had their coats on and were just glad to get off home. The school caretakers locked up the instant they were out of the doors.
In the back Lukasz was working quickly and efficiently. He was glad he’d put in several hours practise in cutting and soldering cable ties. The only problem was that he didn’t have time to sand the soldered joins as smooth as he liked. However, he hoped that wouldn’t matter if Naismith himself was responsible for opening the ballot boxes as the returning officer.
Once again, the van drew to a halt. Lukasz shook out his aching hand as he felt Patryk jump down from the cab and then heard his friend’s shoes walk across the car park. He chugged down a can of Red Bull energy drink – the caffeine and sugar rush hitting his stomach like an express train. Lukasz shook his head and carefully resealed the fifth box.
Lukasz stiffened and tensed. He heard two sets of foot steps approaching the Transit. Had he made a mistake? Surely Patryk wasn’t bringing someone back with him? No, he couldn’t be doing that! Maybe it was only the polling station staff walking through the parking lot on their way home? Lukasz’s heart raced. Through the metal siding of the van, Lukasz recognised Patryk’s voice. He was talking to someone. He was bringing someone back to the van! What was going on, Lukasz thought.
Working at speed but careful to make no noise, Lukasz stacked the five ballot boxes on top of each other and then crouched down behind them. In the metallic silence of the van’s interior Lukasz heard his heart beating like a jack hammer.
Patryk jumped out of the cab and walked over to The Jolly Scotchman pub which was serving as the polling station for the northern Holdingham ward. A drink while you vote – not a bad offer. He checked his watch and was pleased that he was about on schedule. The wind blew a skitter of dried leaves against his legs as he crossed the playground to the school.
There were two young men waiting for him, both smartly dressed in shirts and ties but wearing jumpers against the cold. There was also some guy wearing blue overalls who looked like somebody’s grandfather. The old man was leaning on a broom. The three men’s heads were together as they looked at a video on an iPad tablet.
Patryk heard one of the men say, “dirty slag, that. What a minger,” followed by a bark of laughter. He coughed, politely, and the men turned to face him. The second young man, probably the assistant, looked embarrassed.
“Here, mate, come and have a look at this. One filthy bitch,” the first chap said, pointing the iPad’s screen in Patryk’s direction. Despite himself, Patryk walked over and watched some girl with an artificial chest do the nasty.
He watched for a moment but knew that after the election’s results he could do far better than watching some hired couple get it on.
“I’ve still got several stations to pick up,” he reminded the men.
“Oh, sure, sure,” the polling officer said without tearing his eyes away from the screen where the woman was now doing something… was that even possible? No way could he ask Kassia to do that, she’d slap him… the officer took Patryk’s receipt without even glancing at the signature and stuffed it in his pocket.
As Patryk walked over to the ballot box, he felt the second young man at his shoulder. He turned just as the chap picked up the ballot box.
“Let me,” said the man. “I’ll carry it out for you.”
“No, that’s all right,” said Patryk.
But the young man had hold of the ballot box and short of wrestling the chap for the box, there wasn’t anything he could do. His mind working overtime, Patryk followed him out of the public house and into the wind blown car park. The man still carried the crate.
“Sorry about that, mate,” the man said as soon as the saloon door shut behind them. “That Paul is a right dirty pervert. He’s always showing off stuff he’s downloading off t’interweb.” Patryk nodded, not wanting to encourage his new best friend. Hoping against hope that the chap would get fed up and leave him alone.
Ignoring Patryk’s silence, the young man carried on. “He come across this Romanian site the other week – a couple of women doing yoga while this man in a toga told them what to do. I couldn’t understand what they were saying ‘cos it was all in Romanian or something but you got to see everything. And I mean everything. These women were really supple and this guy – he must have got cameras all over the place because there was nothing left to the imagination…”
“Really?” Patryk grunted, trying to put off the young man’s chatter.
“Yeah, absolutely disgusting. I don’t think those women even knew they were being filmed. They’ll get a shock if they ever log in and see themselves all wide open.”
“Yeah, I’m sure. Look, I’ll take it from here? You get off home,” Patryk suggested.
However, the young man still kept a tight grip of the ballot box. For one wild moment, Patryk considered punching the talkative young man to the ground and snatching the box from him before jumping into the van and racing off into the night.
No. No way. Get a grip, Patryk told himself. Doing that would raise more red flags than at a communist rally.
A few more steps took them to the back of the van. There was nothing for it. Hoping Lukasz had heard their voices, Patryk took out his keys. He fumbled them out, dropped them onto the tarmac and swore loudly and then made a big issue out of finding the right key and jabbing it into the lock.
His heart in his mouth, Patryk opened the van’s rear doors. Only a crack and he was thankful there were no street lights nearby. The back of the Transit was as dark as the tomb.
“Thanks,” said Patryk taking hold of the ballot box. “I’ve got it.” For one moment, he thought the young man would insist on putting the box in the back himself. But the man let go and stepped back. Using the corner of the box as a lever, Patryk opened the back door a fraction more and slid the box in. Immediately, he slammed the doors and locked them. The young man could have seen nothing.
“Thought I might go down the Town Hall and watch the count. I’ve put twenty quid on the Tory – I think he’ll win this time.”
Patryk swore to himself. He should have put big money on Peachornby. None of the local bookies thought the BNP had a snowball’s chance in hell of winning. He’d have made a fortune. On the other hand, a bet like that would have raised some awkward questions afterwards. No, he’d take it slow and easy. He and Lukasz would make enough riding along with Naismith. Long term planning. That’s what Naismith had told him.
The young man waved as Patryk hopped into the cab and drove out of the pub’s car park and then sped south down Lincoln Road. At least traffic was quiet this time of night. Patryk breathed a sigh of relief. That could have been very difficult. If the talkative chap had caught sight of Lukasz doing rather more than merely observing then the game would have been up. It would have been back to Poland and lying low for a while before slipping back into England again.
The next two pick ups went sweet as a nut. He handed over the signed receipts for the ballot boxes, picked them up himself and carried them out to the Transit while the presiding officers closed down their polling stations.
“You all right back there?” Patryk whispered.
“Sure. Only one more to get, yes?” replied Lukasz, cracking open another energy drink.
The Transit sped along Boston Road on the way to the last polling station. It was out on the edge of Sleaford and in the distance, out in the dark countryside, Patryk saw the vast bulk of the Bass Maltings.
He’d taken Kassia out there for a picnic during the summer. However, the Bass Maltings had spooked his girlfriend and they’d never gone back. Patryk remembered the Bass Maltings as a huge complex of eight massive brick buildings together with a tower and chimney standing tall in the middle of them. The frontage was almost three hundred metres long. He’d heard that the Bass Maltings had been built around the turn of the last century to replace all the other breweries in Sleaford. However, the place had fallen on hard times and gone bust about fifty years before.
It had remained empty ever since, becoming more derelict and forlorn with every year. The inside was filled with rusting, abandoned machinery. Now the Maltings was home to rooks, starlings and the occasional vagrant seeking shelter in one of the deeply recessed doorways.
The Bass Maltings was just a huge slab of industrial architecture, totally out of scale with the town and dominating the flat Lincolnshire countryside for miles around. Naismith had told Patryk on the Q.T. that he and his backers had big plans for them. And once they had the mayor in their back pocket, there was nothing to stop their group. There were gazillions to be made there for the right people.
Patryk turned the corner and the Bass Maltings vanished from his mirrors. He shook his head. Something of Kassia’s attitude had rubbed off on him and since the picnic on that summer’s afternoon he’d avoided the place ever since. Not that he was superstitious or anything but that place gave off a bad vibe. Spooky…
The last pick-up now. Navigation Ward. The election officer was waiting for him outside the polling station. The woman looked annoyed at having had to wait so long to be relieved of her duties. She peered over the top of her glasses at him as if he was some naughty school boy sent to the headmistress for a telling off.
“I hope that this system isn’t going to be permanent. I shall be complaining to the returning officer about this. I don’t like being kept waiting this long.”
“It was Naismith who brought it in.” And if you could see what Lukasz was doing to democracy in the back of the van, Patryk thought, you’d have far more to complain about than having to hang about a few extra minutes.
“Sorry, I only the driver,” Patryk muttered apologetically, strengthening his accent so he was barely comprehensible. “I just do as tell me.”
“Of course, I’m sorry. I wasn’t getting at you but I’m not happy.”
“Is all right. I understand,” Patryk said. The woman stopped looking like an angry head-teacher and seemed warmer and motherly. Patryk smiled at her and handed her the receipt for the ballot box.
“Do you want a drink? I’ve got some hot chocolate back there if you want?”
For a moment, Patryk was tempted. He would enjoy a hot drink and the delay would give Lukasz more time in the back but, no, he didn’t want to raise any suspicions at the Town Hall.
“Thanks – but I need get back. Is people waiting at Hall for making count,” Patryk reminded her, remembering to keep up the accent.
“You’re right. Good night and God bless,” the woman said. For a moment, Patryk felt pangs of guilt at the thought of deceiving her but he pushed those thoughts to one side. Naismith would sort this town out. With his planned redevelopments, he’d promised to bring jobs and prosperity to Sleaford and the area around so maybe the means justified the end. Or so Patryk hoped. But it still felt bad allowing a bigot like Peachornby anywhere near the Town Hall, even if only as a figurehead.
“Last box,” Patryk whispered as he slid it into the back of the van.
“Good,” said Lukasz. “I’ve about had enough of this.”
Patryk set off, heading back into Sleaford. A few hundred yards away from the Town Hall on Kesteven Street, he stopped the van and let Lukasz out.
“All done?” Patryk asked.
Lukasz jumped down and rubbed his hands, flexing his sore fingers and working the palms. “I think Naismith and that monkey Peachornby owe me a few beers for tonight’s work.” Lukasz flung the now empty Heinz cardboard box to the side of the road and kicked it viciously.
“Stop your moaning. It’s champagne and caviare all the way for us now,” Patryk told him.
“I’d rather have an ice cold Tyskie,” said Lukasz.
“Don’t think small. We’re gonna hit the big time real soon. Not bad for one night’s work. I’ll catch you later – after the count, okay? We’ll sink those Tyskies then.”
Lukasz nodded and Patryk drove down the road to the Town Hall, pulling up around the back. Naismith and a few other men working for the council were waiting for him. The men unloaded the black ballot boxes and carried them into the Town Hall. As they did so, Naismith raised his eyebrows the merest fraction. “Any problems?”
“All good,” whispered Patryk. But somehow he doubted that any good would come from this night’s work.
Naismith flung his half smoked cigarette into the yard and turned about. Patryk followed the returning officer through the vestibule and into the main council hall. The floor was taken up by a number of trestle tables behind which people sat waiting to count the votes. Naismith had told Patryk earlier that the tellers mostly worked for the council or local banks.
As the returning officer, as the man in charge, Naismith made a show of inspecting the seals on the ballot boxes. He carefully cut them – at exactly the same places Lukasz had previously – and then distributed the boxes to groups of tellers. Immediately, the men and women heaped up the voting slips before them and started counting; sorting the papers into piles, one for each candidate.
As the tellers counted, the candidates walked around the room making sure that their votes were being counted properly.
“Good turnout,” Charles Langton-Gore, the Tory estate agent said to the Lib-Dem doctor, who nodded. The Conservative was pleased. A good turnout usually meant a winning result for the Conservative party. Langton-Gore started mentally rehearsing his acceptance speech. The usual stuff about growth and prosperity and how he was going to govern for the benefit of the whole of Sleaford.
Danielle Rice, the Labour party’s candidate was also rehearsing her victory speech. She’d run a good campaign amongst the Eastern European immigrants, most of whom tended to vote for Labour. A new dawn for Sleaford, inclusive and welcoming. With extra resources and classes in Polish for the school children. A sure-fire winner.
The Green party candidate rushed in fifteen minutes late. The woman looked like she’d been dragged through a hedge backwards several times with her bird’s nest hair, mismatched charity shop clothes and dirty finger nails.
“Sorry, I’m late,” she gasped. “I was making marmalade and it wouldn’t set.”
“That’s all right,” Naismith reassured her. “It’s not compulsory to attend.”
The tellers looked up from their counting, welcoming the distraction as a break from the monotony. The woman caught her breath, had a mug of herbal tea and then walked round chatting to the tellers. She didn’t bother preparing a speech. She knew that she had no chance of winning but thought it important that Green issues were raised and maybe, just maybe, the environment would be considered by the winner.
None of the other candidates spoke to or acknowledged Peachornby or his agent, Mason, in any way. The men were pariahs to the mainstream candidates. Even the tellers avoided the BNP men’s gaze and spoke only to answer direct questions keeping their replies as short as possible. Eventually even men as thick skinned as Peachornby and Mason gave up their attempts to be accepted and stood talking together in one corner.
However, there was soon a low murmur from the tellers and that communicated itself to the candidates. There were more votes for the BNP than the tellers expected. Far more votes. A woman acting as an invigilator riffled through the counted votes. There was a frown on her face as she double checked. She called Naismith over to a table where the votes for the BNP threatened to topple over. Naismith made a comment about ‘the democratic process’.
Somebody must have slipped out to make a discreet phone call because soon after a journalist and photographer showed up from the Standard. Naismith walked over and had a word with them – explaining what snaps he’d allow the smudger to take.
The tellers mostly looked up at the distraction but then dutifully carried on, bent over their work. The journalist, a man called Butler, looked annoyed when a camera crew from BBC Lincolnshire also turned up. Butler saw his possible scoop vanishing down the plughole as the BBC crew would break the news about the electoral upset first. As word spread, the room was now resembling a three ring circus. Naismith marched over to the crew and asked them to set up quietly in the corner but not to start filming until he gave the nod. The BBC guys looked at each other but agreed.
Charles Langton-Gore, the Tory, for all his faults, wasn’t a stupid man. As he walked around the tables, he saw more and more votes piling up for Peachornby and the BNP. This was not what he’d expected. Last time, the Conservatives had beaten the BNP by about five to one. There was no way that was going to happen tonight. The BNP votes over topped both his and the Labour party’s.
He felt a tug on his elbow and saw Danielle Rice, the Labour lady beside him. She wore a smart grey trouser-suit and her red party rosette made a vivid splash of colour against the charcoal. “What’s going on?” she said quietly. “Last time we won and, to be honest, I thought it was a toss-up this time whether you or I won today. But Peachornby and the BNP?” The disgust showed in her voice. “They came nowhere four years ago.”
“I know,” Langton-Gore said. “Did we really misjudge the anti-immigrant feeling that much? I caught a bit of flak on the doorsteps about all the Poles but nothing that led me to believe it was such a big issue or that everyone was going to come out and vote for that sack of sh.. man,” he finished.
“You’re right, Charles. Yes, I picked up on a bit of aggro from some of the estates but I can’t believe that the people of Sleaford would turn out in such numbers to vote for some Nazi like Peachornby.” Both of them fell silent as the hulking form of Mason walked past with a sneering grin on his face.
“The future is ours,” Mason said to them. Both Langton-Gore and Danielle turned away and walked over to the other side of the room.
“If you get a chance, come round my office tomorrow. I’ve got a nice blend of Alta Rica coffee and we’ll talk further,” Langton-Gore said.
Danielle nodded agreement. “Sure. Something’s not right here.”
“You can say that again.”
As the number of uncounted votes dwindled, it became obvious that there was a big electoral upset on the way. The BBC team approached Naismith and asked for permission to set up early. Not wanting to upset the press, he nodded assent. In one corner, the camera crew put up a couple of lamps and silver reflective screens while the sound recorder and reporter tested the noise levels within the hall. Satisfied, the reporter adjusted his tie, brushed down his jacket with his hands and waited for the count to be completed.
One by one the tellers at the tables signalled that they were finished. Naismith walked around and collected their tallies and took all the slips up to the front. With the aid of a calculator, he added them all up. As soon as he had done so, he called up the candidates and showed them the result. Both Charles and Danielle looked unhappy. They scanned the tallies but there was no doubting the result.
Finally, Naismith invited the candidates up onto the small stage and followed them. He waited for the BBC reporter’s nod that everything was in order. Naismith cleared his throat and tapped his microphone. The amplified knock sounded loud in the hall and the low murmur from the watchers died down.
“I hereby give notice that the total number of votes cast for each candidate in the Sleaford Urban Council Mayoral elections is as follows.” He coughed again and Patryk missed the first part. Not that it mattered. It was only the last name that counted. “…, Green Party: 209…”
The Green’s ex-hippy looked disappointed that her share of the votes had declined. Her rosette looked as wilted as a week old lettuce.
“Dr. Timothy Gilbertson, Liberal Democrat: 738.”
Patryk reckoned that not too many of the good doctor’s patients had turned out to support him. Perhaps they should have. If he was working on his Mayoral duties, he’d have less time to conduct the certain intimate ‘medical examinations’ he was notorious for, Patryk thought.
“Danielle Rice, Labour: 2,098.”
Danielle’s face went as red as her rosette. There were gasps from her supporters. As with the Lib-Dems, there had been a drop in the votes cast for her. Some of the Tories jeered. But they were soon also to be disappointed. As soon as the noise dropped, Naismith carried on.
“Charles Langton-Gore: Conservative…,” There were braying cheers from some tweed-clad, horsey looking young men and women at the back. Forgetting there was still one more name, they thought their man had won.
“…2,110.” More cheers greeted this result. Naismith held up his hand. The noise level dropped.
“Kenneth Peachornby, British National Party: 3,270. I hereby declare the said Kenneth Peachornby the duly elected Mayor of Sleaford Urban Council.” Naismith stretched out his arm and offered the microphone to Peachornby.
For one moment there was a stunned silence throughout the hall. Then a cacophony of boos and jeers rang out. Their party animosities temporarily forgotten Tory, Labour and Lib-Dem joined together in anger and outrage.
Mason and the other skinheads in the hall pushed their way to the front and formed a human cordon between the hall and their man on the stage. The BNP thugs glared at the other parties’ supporters.
Peachornby took the microphone from Naismith and started speaking but even his electronically powered voice couldn’t rise above the shouting from the hall. Someone started it and then the whole hall started shouting ironically, “Sieg heil, sieg heil,” and throwing mock Nazi salutes. But rather than looking upset, Peachornby enjoyed it. His already toad-like body seemed to swell up even more.
Patryk reckoned that the man was imagining himself on the steps of the Reichstag with all his army parading in front of him before ordering the Panzers east into Poland. A flash of hatred for what Peachornby and the skinheads stood for rushed through him. His fists clenched and it was with great difficulty he restrained himself from joining in with the angry shouts. He hoped that Naismith knew what he was doing.
As one, the other candidates made their way off the stage and through the crowd. The BBC reporter and Butler from the Standard drew them to one side. That wasn’t difficult as they were eager to talk. Microphones were thrust in front of faces only too eager for the limelight. The themes of shock and upset were what the other candidates told the reporters. Shock, confusion, disgust but also a nod to the concept of adhering to the principals of local democracy no matter what the outcome. At this point there was no difference between the candidates whatever their other political views.
Patryk hung about the crowd surrounding the journalists. He nodded to himself, satisfied. This was exactly what Naismith had predicted would happen. In this country, people were too complacent and wouldn’t suspect a fix until it was too late, by which time Naismith would have covered their tracks. No, they’d chalk it down to an electoral fluke – just one of those strange things that the democratic process throws up from time to time.
Naismith had told Patryk they’d put it down mostly as a protest against both main political parties together with disquiet against the recent influx of immigrants in the area. It would be a nine day’s wonder. No not even that, as Sleaford was not in a so-called ‘newsworthy’ part of the country. Which in England ‘newsworthy’ meant only London and the Home Counties. Patryk grinned.
By this time, some of the uproar in the hall had died down and the BBC reporters and the Standard guy wanted to tape the first interview with the winner. The journalists sent one of their assistants up on stage to fetch Peachornby over. Apart from Naismith in his dual role of Deputy Mayor and Returning Officer, the stage was solely taken up by the BNP’s supporters. Somebody must have had a word with them as a few were actually wearing shirts and ties and nobody had yet started singing their ‘No Surrender’ song or throwing Nazi salutes.
Peachornby approached the reporters. Patryk thought it was like the man was contagious or a leper as everyone else in the hall backed away from him as if fearful of his touch. All the same they watched his progress, lips curled with contempt. Peachornby was accompanied by his minder, Mason, as well as a small ferret-faced man in a grey suit named Gould who looked remarkably like Josef Goebbels, even down to his slicked-back dark hair and fanatically furtive expression.
Patryk hung about to listen but Peachornby wasn’t worth hearing. He guessed that the Goebbels clone might have been sent from the BNP’s headquarters in order to make sure that the new Mayor of Sleaford kept his language under control and didn’t say anything too inflammatory.
With Gould stuck to his side, Peachornby stuck to his script, promising to represent all the people of Sleaford and not just those who supported him. Apart from saying he would be seeking to close the centre for asylum seekers and looking into Masonic influence within Sleaford Urban Council, he didn’t say anything too surprising. Gould seemed pleased.
As Peachornby spoke to the camera and the Standard’s journalist held up an old-fashioned Dictaphone the hall gradually emptied. Many of those leaving expressed their opinion on the result by saying, “shame”. Others swore.
Patryk had seen enough. He made his way out with the last of the tellers and observers and looked up into the night sky. Despite the shock result, the stars still shone and the world still turned. He told himself that what he had helped make happen didn’t really matter. Not if you take the long view. But he still felt dirty – that he had let himself down by doing something very wrong and that not even Naismith could foresee all the consequences.
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One sleepy Fenland town. Two Polish chancers eager to make a fast buck with no questions asked. A group of businessmen with funny handshakes wanting to rake off big money from town planning contracts. A neo-Nazi bigot who'll jump at the chance of becoming Mayor seeing it as the first stepping stone on his march to global power. His bunch of thuggish skinhead hangers-on. Add a huge, abandoned industrial complex on the edge of town ripe for redevelopment. Mix them all together and what could possibly go wrong? Except that matters soon escalate way beyond anything any of these groups expected. Welcome to Sleazeford...