In Competition No. 3088 you were invited to submit a short story in the style of hard-boiled crime fiction set in the corridors of power. Raymond Chandler cast a long shadow over an entry bristling with stinging one-liners, dames, black humour and grandstanding similes laid on with a trowel. The mean streets of Westminster were the most popular setting, though there were glimpses of Brussels and the Oval Office too. Commiserations to unlucky losers Bill Greenwell, D.A. Prince and Alan Millard. High fives to the winners, printed below, who trouser £25 each.
Down these dull corridors a man must go who is not himself dull. Besides, I was expected in Committee Room 4 where the usual suspects were taking evidence on the Universal Credit income taper, a topic dryer than August in a Death Valley temperance house. As I entered, they were comparing and disputing figures like contestants backstage at a beauty pageant. As a self-employed gumshoe getting work less often than a submarine receives junk mail, I had evidence all right. What I didn’t have was words; these wise guys had all of those and they were losing value faster than Weimar currency. Unable to return fire their way, I did it mine, drawing my pistol to make my point. For a second their mouths gaped like upturned hobo caps down Skid Row, then they found something they agreed on. Security goons ejected me with the speed of a bilious attack.
I had one job. Everyone knew that Killer-Heels Tess was completely batshit and Boris the Johnson had a radioactive ego that incinerated all moral feeling and Crazy Jake had dropped in from a parallel universe where time went backwards. Take all that as read, but what the hell went on in the mind of Islington Jezza? It was the nation’s biggest secret, and I was the muggins picked to find it.