Danny tried to follow what was happening in the chamber below. Payne explained that it was a day allocated for questions to the Minister of Health, but that these would end promptly at 12:30. Danny was delighted to see just how impatient Payne was to swap his place in the gallery for a seat on the green benches below.
As the clock above the Speaker's chair edged ever nearer to 12:30, Payne began fidgeting with his order paper, his right leg twitching. Danny remained calm, but then he already knew what the minister was going to tell the House.
When the Speaker rose at 12:30 and bellowed, "Statement by the Minister of Sport," Payne leaned forward to get a better view as the minister rose from the front bench and placed a red file on the dispatch box.
"Mr. Speaker, with your permission I will make a statement concerning which site I have selected for the building of a prospective Olympic velodrome. Members will recall that I informed the House earlier this month that I had shortlisted two locations for consideration but would not make my final decision until I had received detailed surveyors' reports on both sites." Danny glanced around at Payne; a bead of sweat had appeared on his forehead. Danny tried to look concerned, too. "Those reports were handed into my office yesterday, and copies were also sent to the Olympic Sites Committee, to the two honorable Members in whose constituencies the sites are located, and to the president of the British Cycling Federation. Members can obtain copies from the Order Office immediately following this statement.
"Having read the two reports, all the parties concerned agreed that only one site could possibly be considered for this important project." A flicker of a smile appeared on Payne's lips. "The surveyor's report revealed that one of the sites is unfortunately infested with a noxious and invasive plant known as Japanese knotweed (laughter). I can sense that honorable Members, like myself, have not come across this problem before, so I will spend a moment explaining its consequences. Japanese knotweed is an extraordinarily aggressive and destructive plant, which, once it takes hold, quickly spreads and renders the land on which it is growing unsuitable for any building project. Before making my final decision, I sought advice as to whether there was a simple solution to this problem. I was assured by experts in the field that Japanese knotweed can in fact be eradicated by chemical treatment." Payne looked up, a glimmer of hope in his eyes. "However, past experience has shown that first attempts are not always successful. The average time before land owned by councils in Birmingham, Liverpool and Dundee was cleared of the weed and passed fit to build on was just over a year.
"Honorable Members will appreciate that it would be irresponsible for my department to risk waiting another twelve months, or possibly even longer, before work can commence on the infested site. I am therefore left with no choice but to select the excellent alternative site for this project." Payne's skin turned chalk white when he heard the word "alternative." "I have been able to announce that my department, with the backing of the British Olympic Committee and the British Cycling Federation, has selected the site in Stratford South for the building of the new velodrome." The minister resumed her place and waited for questions from the floor.
Danny looked at Payne, whose head was resting in his hands.
An usher came running down the steps. "Is your friend feeling all right?" he asked, looking concerned.
"I'm afraid not," said Danny, looking unconcerned. "Can we get him to a lavatory? I have a feeling he's going to be sick."
Danny took Payne by the arm and helped him to his feet, while the usher guided them both up the steps and out of the gallery. He ran ahead and opened the door to allow Payne to stagger into the washroom. Payne began to be sick long before he'd reached a washbasin.
He pulled his tie loose and undid the top button of his shirt, then began to retch again. As he bowed his head and clung on to the side of the basin breathing heavily, Danny helped him off with his jacket. He deftly removed Payne's mobile from an inside pocket of his jacket and pressed a button that revealed a long list of names. He scrolled through them until he reached " Lawrence." As Payne stuck his head in the washbasin for the third time, Danny checked his watch. Davenport would be preparing for his screen test, one last look at the script before going off to makeup. He began to tap out a text message as Payne fell on his knees, sobbing, just as Beth had done when she watched her brother die. Minister didn't select our site. Sorry. Thought you'd want to know. He smiled and touched the "send" button, before returning to the list of contacts. He scrolled on down, stopping when the name "Spencer" appeared.
Spencer Craig looked at himself in the full-length mirror. He had purchased a new shirt and silk tie especially for the occasion. He'd also booked a car to pick him up from chambers at 11:30 A.M. He couldn't risk being late for the Lord Chancellor. Everyone seemed to know about his appointment, as he continually received smiles and murmurs of congratulation-from the head of chambers down to the tea lady.
Craig sat alone in his office pretending to read through a brief that had landed on his desk that morning. There had been a lot of briefs lately. He waited impatiently for the clock to reach eleven-thirty so that he could leave for his appointment at twelve. "First he'll offer you a glass of dry sherry," a senior colleague had told him. "Then he'll chat for a few minutes about the dire state of English cricket, which he blames on sledging, and then suddenly without warning he'll tell you in the strictest confidence that he will be making a recommendation to Her Majesty-he gets very pompous at this point-that your name should be included in the next list of barristers to take silk and be appointed a QC. He then rambles on for a few minutes about the onerous responsibility such an appointment places on any new appointee blah blah."
Craig smiled. It had been a good year, and he intended to celebrate the appointment in style. He pulled open a drawer, took out his checkbook and wrote out a check for two hundred thousand pounds payable to Baker, Tremlett and Smythe. It was the largest check he had ever written in his life, and he'd already asked his bank for a short-term overdraft facility. But then, he had never known Gerald to be so confident about anything before. He leaned back in his chair and savored the moment as he thought about what he would spend the profits on: a new Porsche, a few days in Venice. Even Sarah might fancy a trip on the Orient Express.
The phone on his desk rang.
"Your car has arrived, Mr. Craig."
"Tell him I'll be right down." He put the check in an envelope, addressed it to Gerald Payne at Baker, Tremlett and Smythe, left it on his blotting pad and strolled downstairs. He would be a few minutes early, but he had no intention of keeping the Lord Chancellor waiting. He didn't speak to the driver during the short journey down the Strand, along Whitehall and into Parliament Square. The car stopped outside the entrance to the House of Lords. An officer on the gate checked his name on a clipboard and waved the car through. The driver turned left under a gothic archway and came to a halt outside the Lord Chancellor's office.
Craig remained seated and waited for the driver to open the door for him, savoring every moment. He walked through the little archway to be greeted by a badge messenger carrying another clipboard. His name was checked once again before the messenger accompanied him slowly up a red-carpeted staircase to the Lord Chancellor's office.