Shuffling into the tiny kitchen of his one-bedroom flat in Tufnell
Park, north London, George opened a cupboard above his head
and pulled out an economy tin of baked beans. After opening it,
he poured about half of the contents into a small pan resting on
the stove. What was left in the tin went into a small fridge that
was otherwise almost empty, containing only a pint of milk and
a couple of bottles of Red Stripe beer that had been on special
offer in the local minimart.
Taking a box of matches from the worktop, George lit the gas
and began stirring. When he estimated that the beans were on their
way to being hot, he fished his last two slices of white bread out of
their wrapper, and carefully dropped them into an ancient toaster.
Switching it on gingerly, he stepped back quickly, fully expecting
the machine to blow up at any moment. Returning his attention to
the stove, he also kept half an eye on the bread. George knew that
multi-tasking had never been his strong point, and more often than
not something got burnt. It was quite stressful, really. Giving the
beans another stir, he had a quick taste. Though bubbling away
nicely, they were still quite cold. He then decided to pop the toast;
the bread was barely coloured, but that was, he always thought,
better than waiting too long and incinerating it. Err on the side of
caution was his motto. Or, at least, it had been for a long time now.
Happier that he could now focus exclusively on the pan,
George relaxed. As he stirred the beans, he listened to the
background hum of city life. George liked to listen.
Tonight, he could hear the television in the flat downstairs
over the ever-present rumble of traffic from the road outside.
After a few moments, his ears picked out the sound of footsteps
coming up the stairs. He heard them stop outside his front door.
After a couple more seconds, the buzzer sounded, harsh, flat and
At first, George didn’t react. He couldn’t imagine why anyone
would want to ring his bell. When was the last time he’d received
a caller? With no intention of answering the door, he carefully
speared a bean and dropped it on to his tongue – still not quite
The buzzer sounded again: another short, authoritative burst.
George hesitated. Maybe he should see who it was. But would he
have time to answer the door without the beans getting burnt?
He remonstrated with himself for even debating about it. Why
should he bother? It would only be some door-to-door salesman,
a cold caller, wanting him to change his electricity supplier or
Dropping the toast on a nearly clean plate, he wondered if he
should have any butter. The buzzer sounded again, longer this
time, as if the person outside knew for sure that he was there.
‘Go away!’ George hissed, under his breath, as he gave
the beans one last stir. Turning off the gas, he decided against the
butter and poured the beans directly over the toast. Sticking
the pan under the tap, he half filled it with water and dropped it
in the sink.
He was hunting for a knife and fork when the buzzer went
again, a series of short staccato bursts that said: Come on, answer
the bloody door. I’m not taking no for an answer.
‘All right, all right, I’m coming.’ George turned away from his
dinner and shuffled into the tiny hallway. As a matter of routine,
he put his eye to the spyhole. There was no one there. Typical,
he thought, bloody kids. They’ll be hiding up on the next floor,
thinking this is hilarious. With a sigh, he turned back to his plate.
Before he’d even taken a step, the doorbell went again, much
louder this time, the buzzer right above the door drilling harshly
into his skull.
‘You little sods.’ Turning on his heel, he swung the door open
and stepped on to the landing, his chin making perfect contact
with the fist that had been waiting for it all this time.
Waking up, George had a nasty taste in his mouth and a
throbbing headache that made him want to cry. He was sitting
in the living room, his hands and legs tied to the only upright
chair. His upper chest had also been taped to the back of the
chair, to ensure that he was totally immobile. There was another
strip taped across his mouth. Realising that even utility companies
would probably not go this far in order to convince
customers to switch their accounts, he started to panic, gnawing
at the tape with his teeth, and trying desperately to push himself
out of the chair.
‘Relax, relax.’ The voice was quiet, soothing. ‘Just try to keep
breathing.’ But the hand on his shoulder did nothing to help calm
him down. It was wearing a rubber glove like the kind doctors
wear, or those you see killers snapping on in movies, just before
they butcher their victims.
Forcing himself to draw in a few deep breaths, George noticed
the plate on the coffee table in front of him was empty now, save
for a few breadcrumbs and a couple of stray beans. His stomach
rumbled in protest, even though dinner was the least of his
worries right now. Next to the plate was a large kitchen knife
with an evil-looking serrated edge. George knew that the knife
had not come from his kitchen. In a moment of bowel-freezing
clarity, he realised that you wouldn’t bring along a knife like that
if you weren’t intending to use it.
Shaking his head, George started to sob. Big, fat tears rolled
down his cheeks, and over the tape covering his mouth. Surely
this couldn’t be the end? His time had gone so quickly. He had
squandered it so badly. There hadn’t even been enough that had
happened in his life for anything exciting to flash in front of his
eyes. What he saw was more of a short loop that kept repeating,
like the trailer for a film that you know is going to be really quite
‘Compose yourself,’ said the voice.
George sniffed. He could hear the banging of pans in
next-door’s kitchen. A young Asian couple. There were voices,
laughter. He didn’t know their names, but he had nodded to
them on the stairs once or twice. A couple of times, he’d
overheard them having sex through the paper-thin walls. Once
he’d even jerked himself off to the rhythm of the woman’s
cautious groans. That was the best sex he’d had in a long time.
The memory of it caused a twinge of arousal in his groin,
sparking a flicker of fight in his belly. Rocking backwards and
forwards on his chair, he started screaming through the tape. All
that came out, however, was a cautious moan, not unlike that of
the careful lovemaking next-door, which he’d liked to listen to
whenever he had the chance.
‘Enough.’ Again, there was the hand on his shoulder. ‘Don’t
wear yourself out.’
Head bowed, George nodded.
For a moment, there was silence. Then the voice continued.
‘You have a very modest abode here, don’t you, George? All that
education. All that money. All those opportunities. All that . . .
privilege. How did you end up like this?’
George shrugged. He badly wanted to blow his nose. It was a
question he himself had pondered many times.
The hand reached over and picked up the knife. George felt
himself gag. The tip of the blade tickled the back of his neck.
‘You know why I’m here?’
‘You know what I’m going to do?’
Again, George tried to scream.
The blade appeared at his left cheek, reflecting the light from
the sixty-watt light bulb overhead. ‘It can happen either when
you’re dead, or while you’re still alive, but I would suggest the
former.’ His guest finally stepped in front of him and brought the
point of the blade to the tip of George’s nose. George felt himself
go cross eyed as he tried to keep it in focus. The blade was moved
a few inches back as if to give him a better look. ‘You have a
choice. I’m not a sadist. Not like you.’
George vigorously shook his head, eyes wide. Along with the
rubber gloves, the visitor was wearing a thin, clear, plastic
raincoat, the kind that tourists bought when caught out by the
weather. It hung all the way down to the floor and looked
‘Oh, you’d say that now. But then . . . when you had the
George felt something press into his flesh, then a burning
sensation, then the agony of the knife chiselling into one of his
ribs. He reached deep into his lungs and bellowed. The sound
that emerged was like a constipated man trying to pass a cricket
‘The harder you make it for me, the worse it will be for you.
I’m no expert in this kind of thing, but I should be able to make
a decent effort at cutting your throat. Sit still now . . .’
George was trying for one last deep breath as he watched the
knife disappear under his chin. Looking down, he was distracted
by the sound of something splattering off his killer’s raincoat.
The knife flashed in front of him for a second time but by now
his head was slumped on his chest, as if he was mesmerised by
the blood that had filled his dinner plate to overflowing.
Inspector John Carlyle of the Metropolitan Police dropped the
copy of Vogue back on to the coffee table in front of him and
yawned. In the corner, his sergeant, Joe Szyszkowski, was
snoring away quietly. Above Joe’s head, on a large television
screen, a news reporter was standing outside Buckingham Palace
speculating that the prime minister was finally going to call the
long-awaited General Election. All manner of important things
were going on in the outside word and here he was, sitting in a
private health clinic on Harley Street, waiting for some Italian
crook to finish having a tummy tuck.
‘How long is this going to take?’ he asked no one in particular.
The sour-faced receptionist looked up from her computer and
gave him an exasperated look. Having a bunch of policemen
camping in the clinic’s reception did nothing for the atmosphere
of the place. Not to mention her ability to spend the morning
talking to her mates on the phone while updating her Facebook
page. ‘The doctor said Mr Boninsegna should be coming round
in the next few minutes,’ she said slowly, as if talking to a
particularly dim child who needed everything repeated several
times. ‘He will let you know as soon as his patient begins to
‘You are very kind. Thank you.’ Commissario Edmondo
Valcareggi, of the Italian State Police, smiled at the girl like a
wolf contemplating the lamb that was about to be lunch.
You dirty old bugger, Carlyle thought sourly, you’ve got to be
even older than I am. Having to babysit this old lech from Rome
was a major pain in the arse. With his shock of white hair and
sharp features, Valcareggi looked like something out of a Ralph
Lauren advert. The expensively casual clothes he was wearing
looked as if they must have cost many months of Carlyle’s salary.
How much did Italian police get paid, anyway? ‘You’re sure that
the man in there is actually Ferruccio Pozzo?’ he asked for the
umpteeth time. The man recovering from his operation down the
corridor was registered in the name of Furio Boninsegna.
Valcareggi smiled indulgently. ‘There is no question of it. We
are absolutely sure. He’s had plastic surgery before, and is
travelling on a fake passport of course . . .’
‘Of course,’ interjected Joe, who had woken up and was helping
himself to a fresh cup of coffee from the pot by the reception desk.
Taking a sip, he smiled at the receptionist, who made a show of
blanking him. Shrugging, he sat back down next to Carlyle.
‘. . . but we have a DNA match,’ Valcareggi continued. ‘It is
definitely the right man, and he is very worth catching. Pozzo has
links to the various crime clans in the ’Ndrangheta syndicate. He
has been a fugitive for almost two years now, and this is his
second round of liposuction. We almost caught up with him the
first time, at a clinic in Nice, but he left it about an hour before
‘It happens,’ said Joe sympathetically.
‘This time,’ Valcareggi beamed, ‘we’ve got him. No problem.’
‘Anaesthetic always slows them down,’ Carlyle quipped. ‘I
don’t know why we don’t use it more often.’ Reaching down, he
picked up another magazine and quickly flicked through the
pages until he came to a large picture of two well-dressed men
hovering on the cusp of middle age. The pair beamed at him as
if they had just won an Olympic gold, taken the casino at Monte
Carlo for ten million dollars and fucked Scarlett Johansson all
ends up, all on the same day.
The strapline read: Better than you, and they know it.
Tossers, Carlyle thought. But he started reading anyway.
THE GOLDEN TWINS TAKE CENTRE STAGE
The Carlton brothers will be running the country soon;
Eamonn Foinhaven profiles a new political aristocracy
in the land.
One is known as ‘the Sun King’, the other ‘the dark prince’, nicknames
they picked up on their fabled journey from the playing fields of Eton,
the forge of leaders down the centuries, through Cambridge University
to the House of Commons, and now on to the very gates of power, in
front of No 10 Downing Street itself.
If the perception in Westminster is that Edgar Carlton is the prime
minister in waiting – the odds on him taking the top job shortening
every day, after every new fumble and misjudgement by the current
incumbent – his younger sibling (by two minutes), Xavier, is hardly living
in his shadow.
The political classes are now agreed that Edgar Carlton has all the
necessary skills for great office: the charm, the drive, the appetite to lead
from the front. Xavier, on the other hand, who is as likely to be found
in the gossip pages as in parliamentary reports, has more doubters.
Already handed the post of Shadow Foreign Secretary by his brother, it
seems increasingly certain that he will get the chance to prove these
doubters wrong. It is even whispered that the twins have agreed a secret
pact, with Edgar promising to stand down as PM in favour of Xavier
once a second term is secured.
The Carltons fit perfectly with the mood of the moment, the country’s
new taste for austere glamour. Their story is now well known: the sons
of the celebrated union between Hamisi Michuki, the Kenyan model
who stormed London society in the 1960s, and Sir Sidney Carlton, a
rakish tycoon who rose to the heights of Paymaster General in
successive governments in the early 1960s, before his political ambitions
were derailed by an unfortunate incident with a pair of strippers from
the Cowshed Club, a notorious haunt of gangsters and other
pre-Swinging Sixties lowlifes.
Happily for the boys, the best genes of both parents have been passed
on; they acquired their mother’s stunning looks and their father’s
political nous. Now, they are poised to sweep away both the gloom of
the ‘new austerity’ and also the soul-destroying cult of the working-class
rapscallion, or ‘cheeky chav’, both of which have plagued the country in
recent years. In the class-ridden twenty-first century, the Carltons are
the ultimate ‘anti-chavs’, standing against everything that is common,
vulgar and ugly. Surfing a popular wave of optimism and glamour, they
have, quite simply, left routine politics behind. ‘They are so in touch with
the zeitgeist, it’s frightening,’ declares Chelsea-based style guru Sally
Plank. ‘Their peers are footballers, pop stars and royalty, rather than
other politicians. They realise that becoming a credible celebrity is ninety
per cent of the job done; because if you’re a celebrity, the public will
forgive you for being a politician.’
Potentially the first brothers to hold senior government office
together since just before the outbreak of the Second World War, they
are fiercely loyal to each other. ‘It’s almost like a gay political marriage,’
remarked one colleague who declined to be named. ‘They have an
almost telepathic understanding and are constantly watching each
Not that they have much to worry about in that regard at the moment,
for whatever reservations ordinary members may have about the
brothers’ grip on the party is more than offset by the current opinion
polls. After many years in the wilderness, power once again beckons.
Lucky or not, Edgar and Xavier Carlton are in the right place at the right
time. They look young, modern and in touch with the public.
‘They will win, that much is certain,’ says pollster Martin Max of
pressyourbutton.co.uk, the UK’s leading 360-degree sentiment-sampling
service, ‘the only question is by how much. The Carltons could end up
with the biggest majority in modern history, eclipsing the 232-seat
majority of the Spencer government in the early nineteenth century.’
Joe Szyszkowski tapped him on the arm. ‘Look . . .’
Carlyle looked up at the television screen just in time to see a
sleek Jaguar carrying the current prime minister sweep through
the gates of Buckingham Palace.
‘Here we go,’ Joe said. ‘Election time.’
‘Big surprise,’ Carlyle grumbled. ‘The silly old sod left it as late
as possible. Not that it’s going to do him any good.’
‘Who will you vote for?’ Valcareggi asked bluntly.
‘That’s between me and the ballot box, Edmondo,’ Carlyle
said stiffly. He held up the magazine so that the commissario
could see the article that he had been reading. ‘But you can safely
assume that I won’t be supporting this bunch of over-privileged
‘The inspector is a real inverted snob,’ Joe laughed, whereupon
Valcareggi gave him a look that indicated he didn’t understand
the phrase. Before the sergeant could explain, a nervous-looking
man in a white coat appeared. Reflexively, Joe reached for his
‘Gentlemen,’ the doctor said quietly, ‘Mr . . . er, the patient is
just waking up.’
‘Excellent!’ Carlyle pushed himself to his feet. ‘Let’s go and
arrest the now not-so-fat fuck.’
Kitty Pakenham, a.k.a. Catherine Sarah Dorothea Wellesley,
Duchess of Wellington (1773–1831), wife of Field Marshal
Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, KG, KP, GCB,
GCH, PC, FRS, looked down benevolently from above the
library fireplace, her gentle, amused smile no doubt reflecting the
fact that the St James’s gentlemen’s club that bore her name had
never – and would never – permit women to become members.
Beneath Kitty’s gaze, Edgar Carlton, MP, leader of Her
Majesty’s opposition, sipped gently on his Cognac de Grande
Champagne Extra Old and watched a series of familiar images
that flickered on the television screen in front of him. The sound
was muted – club members didn’t like noise, particularly when it
was the news – but that didn’t matter, for Edgar knew it all off
by heart. After grimly clinging on to power for as long as
possible, the prime minister – the man Edgar would be replacing
at No 10 Downing Street in a month’s time – had finally
announced that a general election would be held on 5 May. The
Queen had agreed that Parliament be dissolved next week. The
election campaign had begun.
Edgar took a large mouthful of his cognac and let it linger on
his tongue. A wave of ennui passed over him, since the prospect
of spending the next three weeks scrambling across the country,
meeting ‘ordinary people’ and begging for votes in marginal
constituencies, was singularly unappealing. It was such a damn
bloody chore. He knew, however, that there was no way round
it. At least he didn’t have to worry about losing at the end of it
Finally letting the brandy trickle down his throat, he gazed at
the television screen and scrutinised his opponent. Looking back
at him was a tired, beaten, middle-aged man who had achieved
nothing other than to feed his ego for a few squalid years. Even
with the sound turned down, Edgar could interpret the man’s
soundbite: ‘This election is a big choice. The British people are the
boss, and they are the ones that will make that choice.’
‘I think that they already have, my friend.’ Edgar smiled. As
if on cue, a graphic appeared on screen, displaying four opinion
polls that had been published earlier in the day. They confirmed
that Edgar’s lead had strengthened to between ten and sixteen
points. Short of being caught in flagrante with a couple of altar
boys, there is no way I can lose, he thought. Simply no way.
Raising his glass to Kitty, he turned his back on the television
and savoured the peace of the empty room. With a shiver, he
realised that he wouldn’t be seeing much of this club from now
on. Pakenham’s was almost two hundred years old, and for a
while it had been the headquarters of the political party that he
now led. Previous club members had included various princes of
Wales, the writer Evelyn Waugh, and Joseph White the media
magnate who rose to number 238 on the Sunday Times Rich List,
before fraud and obstruction-of-justice convictions landed him
in a Florida prison. If it was good enough for people like that,
Edgar thought, it was good enough for him. Pakenham’s was one
of the few things in life that gave him any sense of identity.
Certainly, it was one of the few places where he could get any
Catching sight of himself in a nearby mirror, Edgar smiled.
Black don’t crack, as the saying went, and so it was with him. He
had his Kenyan model-turned-mother to thank for that. The
Audrey Hepburn of Africa, they’d called her, and she’d given
him the good genes, the good looks and the non-receding
hairline. He had his father, Sir Sidney Carton, to thank for
everything else. Truly he deserved his ‘Sun God’ moniker. He let
his gaze linger on the image in the mirror, and gave a small nod
of approval. The flowing locks had gone, replaced by a
number-one crop on back and sides and a number four on top,
inspired by the new American President. On the edge of extreme,
it was just on the right side of suggesting a football hooligan or
a squaddie: utilitarian, athletic, a no-nonsense haircut that talked
about control and focus. It worked well, too, with today’s
ensemble: sober two-button grey suit, white shirt and gentle pink
tie, rounded off by a pair of sharp, well-polished Chelsea boots.
Suited and booted indeed! Not for nothing had he been placed
in the top five in Modern Men’s Monthly magazine’s list of the
world’s best-dressed men for the last two years, beating the likes
of David Beckham, Daniel Day-Lewis, James McAvoy, Jude
Law – and, best of all, his twin brother, political colleague and
sometime rival, Xavier.
A polite cough drew Edgar from his reverie. He half turned to
find William Murray standing behind him. One of the more
important minions, Murray was one of twelve ‘Special Advisers’
in Edgar Carlton’s team. Now that he was on the brink of power,
it was a team that had swelled to more than fifty people, and
seemed to be getting bigger by the day. Murray was in his
mid-to-late twenties, only four or five years out of Cambridge,
and appeared charming, cynical and energetic. With an indeterminate
brief, he was a general fixer who could turn his hand to
PR, lobbying, and one or two other things that Edgar didn’t need
to know about. Of somewhat brittle temperament, the young man
had no pedigree to speak of, and was a ‘bit of rough’ who could
take the fight to the other side whenever the going got heavy.
Of course, Murray was not a club member, but sometimes you
had to let the hired help into the inner sanctum, in the course of
performing their jobs. The young aide crossed the room, nodded
a greeting to his boss and stood to attention by the far end of the
fireplace. Pulling a sheaf of papers out of an expensive-looking
briefcase, he waited expectantly.
It suddenly struck Edgar that the face looking back at him
could be his clone from twenty or so years ago: when younger,
fresher, smarter. Before he had time to get too annoyed by this
thought, he felt his mobile vibrating inside his jacket pocket.
Pulling it out, he quickly read the text that had just arrived.
Smiling, he flashed the screen at his aide, not giving the boy time
to read it. ‘It’s a good-luck message from my old headmaster.
That’s very nice of him.’
‘Yes,’ Murray agreed, a little bemused. His own headmaster –
at the Terence Venables Comprehensive in Hammersmith – had
been sacked for getting one of the sixth-formers pregnant. Why
anyone would want to keep in touch with their old schoolteachers
was beyond him.
‘I will be the nineteenth boy from my school to become prime
minister,’ Edgar explained. ‘If I am elected, of course. It’s quite
a list: Walpole, Eden, Gladstone, Macmillan . . .’
‘Indeed,’ Murray nodded.
‘Assuming I do win,’ Edgar continued, ‘all the boys then get a
day off in celebration. So there’s a lot riding on this.’ He smiled
his most patronising smile. ‘So . . . no pressure.’
‘Did you see the latest polls?’ Murray asked, trying to move
the conversation along. ‘Spectacular.’
‘Another month and we’ll be there, Mr Murray,’ Edgar
beamed. ‘I’m heading for Downing Street, and I’m taking you
‘Absolutely!’ The young man bowed his head slightly, as if in
prayer. When he looked up again, it almost seemed as if he might
start crying out of gratitude.
‘So,’ Carlton lowered his voice even though there was no one
else in the room, ‘let’s just make sure that there are no mistakes
during the next few weeks, shall we?’
Murray lent forward to whisper back, ‘Yes.’
‘Now is the time for the utmost focus and complete professionalism,’
Edgar added. ‘We most definitely do not need any
slip-ups at this stage.’
‘No.’ Murray smiled. ‘I fully understand.’
‘I know you do, William.’ Carlton stood up and gently grasped
the young man’s shoulder. ‘You are a very smart young man.
Your parents must be very proud.’
Once again, the boy bowed his head slightly and, for a second,
Edgar thought that he could indeed see tears welling in his eyes.
‘Yes, sir,’ he whispered, ‘they are.’
‘Good,’ Edgar murmured. ‘That’s very good.’ Unsettled by
such emotion, he took a step backwards. ‘Make sure you tell
them just what an important job you are doing here. I know that
I can rely on you.’
Excerpted from London Calling by James Craig. Copyright © 2011 by James Craig. Excerpted by permission of Soho Constable, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.