The Knives is a new political thriller, centred around an ambitious Conservative Home Secretary, now sounding eerily familiar.
Author Richard T Kelly says: “Five years ago I felt moved to start researching and writing a novel about a fictional Home Secretary, inspired by what I knew of the crushing difficulties – political, personal, moral – experienced by every holder of that office during the Blair/Brown governments (not to speak of the previous hundred or so years). I wanted to imagine what sort of substantive person you might have to be, flaws notwithstanding, in order to withstand and repel such constant flak.”
Read on for an exclusive extract from the novel, setting the scene for the relationship between the PM and Home Secretary…
In the back of the parked Prime Ministerial Jag Patrick Vaughan was crisply turned out and rehearsing his lines, albeit frowning somewhat at the pages of the script on his lap.
Seated at the PM’s side, Blaylock peered out at the drear aspect of residential working class Slough an hour since a grimy sunrise. The houses were good-sized, all stone-cladded or pebble-dashed, fronted by scruffy lawns. The Jaguar was parked next to a shuttered kebab shop, round a corner from the street where the action was scheduled to unfold. Theirs was a small cortege, dominated by two big chequered and crested vans around which the Immigration Enforcement team now milled – six officers, bulky in their navy flak blousons and boots, seeming to find the morning unexpectedly warm and visibly anxious for kick-off.
Al Ramsay, in a huddle with a handful of press, strode over and tapped the glass. Blaylock swung the door open.
‘OK, I think we’ll roll in ten minutes.’
‘Why the delay? If we’re not careful the targets will have had their porridge and got off.’
‘The ITN van is still five minutes away. If you’re after something to read, David…’ Ramsay handed him the Guardian, folded and plumped at the op-ed page which asked in 18-point type, ‘What did David Blaylock think he was doing in Stapletree?’
‘Getting out of listening to another bloody speech by me, I believe’, offered Vaughan, suavely.
Blaylock tossed the paper aside. ‘It was a scheduled visit, with proper advance security, which got hijacked because somebody grassed.’ He drummed on his thighs, riled. ‘Sorry, Paddy, I just fancy a quick look out.’
As Blaylock moved from the car Andy Grieve broke from chatting with the Enforcement officers and moved to his side. One of the officers followed, frowning. ‘Sir, I think the guys are thinking we ought to move in before the whole postcode’s got wind of us?’
‘I think they’re right. Howay, let’s get cracking.’
After the briefest of conferences the Enforcement team headed round the street corner en route to the first address on the job-sheet, ignoring the vexed gesticulations of Al Ramsay. Blaylock looked to Andy, shrugged, and followed the officers.
Soon they had fanned out across the front of a property and were rapping lightly on doors and windows. Watching from the pavement with Andy, Blaylock saw a female officer emerge from inspection of a narrow side alley running the length of a breeze-block wall. He glanced up to a second-storey window, the glass blocked out by what he recognised as the Moroccan flag, a green pentagram amid a wash of red.
Suddenly the front door creaked open in its metal frame. One officer stepped inside, and his colleagues followed him. Blaylock heard Andy emit a long sceptical exhalation.
‘Six lads, why are they all going in the front…?’
Instantaneously two close-cropped men – wearing hardly more than sports vests – came hurtling down the alleyway. The first, seeing Blaylock and Andy, feinted to his right and raced out into the street, Andy taking to his heels in pursuit. The second hesitated before Blaylock in the manner of a cornered mouse before attempting his own mazy variation off to the left. Instinctively Blaylock committed to a rugby tackle, shoulder to thigh, and brought his man down with him to the cracked concrete.
He heard crunching boots and grunts all around and was quickly helped to his feet, where he saw that Andy had the first runner in custody and that a photographer was maniacally snapping away and reframing while Al Ramsay sought to dissuade him.
After ten fraught minutes – during which the big vans pulled round, the two runners were cuffed into the back of a police car, and Al Ramsay seemed not to want to acknowledge his existence – Blaylock accompanied the Prime Minister on a guided tour of the property.
The instant they were through the door into the narrow darkened hallway Blaylock could hear a child’s panic-stricken crying coming from the kitchen. The atmosphere felt wrong: Blaylock felt himself to be the invasive presence.
One interrogation was being conducted in the living room – Blaylock made out decent soft furnishings and a big telly, and heard ‘Who’s renting this place?’ repeated insistently. They were led on upstairs, met by a wall of sour unaired odour, where all the curtains were drawn and blankets and pillows were piled up across every floor, a ringtone diddled away unanswered and in the master bedroom four swarthy men in pyjamas sat, glumly constricted, on a bed, an officer standing over them, seeking to determine their names and ages.
‘Come on now, gents, you’re gonna get me cross.’
Their officer guide spoke quietly. ‘So, we have an Indian gentleman whose passport is a fake. A lady with a visa that expired several months ago. And it doesn’t appear these young Albanian men have any paperwork at all.’
‘So they’re all here illegally’, said Vaughan, as if helpfully. What next?’
‘Straight to detention, pending removal, no passing go.’
‘Well, I call that a fair morning’s work. You’d wonder why can’t it be like this all the time?’
Because this is showbusiness, thought Blaylock, but then the Captain touched his arm and jerked a thumb in the direction of the stairs.
Back outside Al Ramsay took Vaughan into his care and stared critically at Blaylock. ‘I’m not sure you can face the cameras, David.’
‘Look, I okayed this operation, so I’m prepared to defend it.’
‘What I mean is, there’s a rip in your bloody jacket.’
Blaylock touched his shoulder and realised that Ramsay didn’t lie. ‘Whatever. I’ll do it in shirt-sleeves.’
Ramsay laid a hand on his arm and Blaylock was irritably minded to bat it aside. In fact he was being steered aside, for two officers were emerging from the house, flanking a crushed-looking woman with a sobbing four-year-old boy clutched awkwardly around her.
A fair morning’s work, oh yes, Blaylock thought.
Once the stage was clear Ramsay approved the shot and Blaylock stood begrudgingly, arms folded, at the Captain’s side.
‘We came to Slough today to send a message. Be very clear, if you’re in this country illegally, there is no hiding place…’
On the M4 the corteges separated and Blaylock saw the Captain’s Jaguar power ahead, flanked by motorcycle outriders. He took a call from Mark Tallis, guessing correctly its import.
‘You’ve gone viral again, patrón. Attracting a lot of good comment. And the great thing is, this time there are pictures. Your security guy, though, he should know people are starting to ask who he is now.’
Blaylock cackled as he hung up. Andy looked questioningly.
‘You’re getting famous, Andy…’
The phone pulsed again, Blaylock put it to his ear without thinking, only to recoil from a blast of discordant noise, out of which resolved a terribly familiar quasi-female automated monotone.
‘Mr Blaylock, when will you die? When will you die, Mr Blaylock? Every second you’re alive, other people pay. Time for you to die, Mr Blaylock.’
Andy clocked Blaylock’s grim expression and leaned in. Blaylock shared the handset with him, seeing that the screen read ID – UNKNOWN. The voice had mutated into a sinister childish treble. ‘We see you, going around, stomping on the weak and the sick, calling it courage. Still so proud of yourself? Have a care, Mister Rat!’
Grimacing, Andy made a cutting gesture with the flat of his hand.
‘The trap is set. Your time – ’
Blaylock pressed END CALL and pondered the muted device for some moments.
‘Well, that’s that, for what it’s worth’, Andy muttered. ‘He’s toast, whoever he is.’
Blaylock slumped back into the leather.
An international festival of light
Dinner in a decommissioned 1967 underground carriage
Half-price brunch and a HUGE fried chicken burger