Tinker Tailor Soldier Twat
“He said there is a mole, right at the top of the British government, that he’s been there for years.” Gove, the minister’s minister, a man who somehow made himself indispensable in every government, while somehow never being quite trusted in any of them, sucked on his cigarette and blew out a long stream of smoke. Cummings wasn’t sure whether he despised him or admired him. He was a journalist’s idea of a politician, and Dom Cummings hated journalists. Except Mary, obviously. And the ones he liked to brief to. And himself.
He watched Gove, impassive, Buddha-like, for some time, before finally replying. “I’m retired, Michael. Your lot fired me.”
“Dammit, Dom, it’s your generation, your legacy. You’ll take the job, clean the stables. Go backwards, go forwards, do whatever is necessary.”
So Cummings went back to Osborne’s, the prep school where he’d been teaching rationalism and long-form blogging since he’d been blown, explained that he needed a leave of absence because of a sick parent, and set out in search of the traitor.
His first visit was to the woman who knew Labour better than anyone. Carrie was out of CCHQ now, with a baby and an incontinent dog. But her mind was as sharp as ever.
“There’s only one person who could set something like this up,” she said, sipping her vodka.
The name was a legend in the department, if a much-disputed one. No one could remember ever having seen or heard Keir. Some questioned whether he existed at all, arguing he was simply a tale told to scare younger SpAds: “Shut down those FoI requests, or Keir will get you!”
But Cummings believed. He had a feeling that he might have met him once, though it could have been someone else. Carrie went on.
“There’s a story you must have heard, that Keir had set up a secret cell? The personnel are all ex-Crown Prosecution Service. Deep penetration agents. Moles.”
“There are always stories, Nut Nuts,” he said, affectionately using one of her old worknames.
“But what if this one’s true? What if, back in 2009, the dying days of the Labour government, Keir built a network of agents in the heart of government, and put them to sleep. What if he left them sleeping all through the coalition, all through the referendum, through the years when Theresa May was trying to deliver Brexit without a majority, through three general elections, and has activated them now, in the middle of a global pandemic, when the government has a majority of 80? You’ve got to admit, it’s plausible.”
The person behind it was known to be the greatest mind alive. Now Dom was going to have to lock horns with him
The rain lashed down as Cummings stared out of the window of the train carrying him back to London. Was it plausible? Was it, as Gove claimed, the only explanation for the series of disasters that had befallen the government in recent months?
There was no denying the problem. For months, operations had been blowing up. Statements had been issued only to turn out not to be true within hours or days. The opposition had seemed constantly one step ahead.
And Carrie and Michael were right, too, that things had got markedly worse since the middle of 2019. It was almost as though, one day in late July of that year, the government had somehow just got more chaotic and angry. The simplest explanation for that really was a secret cell of Labour supporters.
Dom knew where he was going to have to go next. He had suppressed it, pushed it to the back of his mind, wished it wasn’t so, but the solution to the complex knot that tied everything together lay somewhere in the mess that had led to his own dismissal.
The previous year had started quietly. Cummings had been kicking his heels, building up a network of waiters in SW1 who could tell him exactly who was lunching which journalist. Then suddenly he had been ordered to drive from one end of England to the other, carrying a carload of virus , and then appear in a number of public places.
The ensuing scandal had engulfed the government. How had people found out? Who had known about the mission? Why had they given him such a flimsy cover story? For months, Dom had been avoiding the obvious truth, that the operation had been a gigantic act of self-sabotage.
But the person behind it was known to be the greatest mind alive. Now Dom was going to have to lock horns with him. It would take all his skill to delve into that gigantic brain, to outwit the master of eight-dimensional chess whose very name was spoken in hushed tones.
But it could be delayed no longer. Cummings poured himself a probiotic brain boost smoothie and stared into the mirror. “Dom,” he began, “it’s time to tell me the truth about Operation Test-Your-Eyes.”
Next week: Where has the absent scalphunter Lee Cain been hiding for the last six months, and which speaking firm is he really working for? Is the answer hidden in a 50,000-word blogpost about the Manhattan Project? And is Dom closer to identifying the figure at the top of government who seems to ruin everything he touches, known only by a mysterious codename: “Boris”?
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