The mystery of the vanishing ministers

`Remember Harriet Harman? Going places, and then she blotted her copybook and got the chop'
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Today - a complete modern police thriller novel, totally unabridged!

"THERE'S SOMETHING on your mind, isn't there?" said the Chief Police Commissioner to his Head of Operations (London ). "What is it, Jack? Something to do with this wretched mayor of London business?"

Head Chief Top Superintendent Jack Wentworth shook his head.

"No, not that. That's not a worry. That's just a long-running pantomime. They should sell tickets for it."

"Who do you think will win?"

"Well, there's a joke going round that Ken Livingstone is bound to win, because he's the only candidate who's got a London borough named after him."

"Livingstone?" said the Police Commissioner. "I thought that was a new town near Edinburgh?"

"Not Livingstone, sir. South Ken."

Silence. Nobody laughed.

"It's about all these missing cabinet ministers."

The commissioner looked startled.

"What missing cabinet ministers? I hadn't heard about anyone going missing."

"It's not so much that, more a pattern which I can't quite put my finger on... Do you remember Harriet Harman?" he asked.

The Police Commissioner screwed up his eyes and went through the motions of trying to remember.

"Always on Question Time, wasn't she? Bright new babe of the Blair team. Got a post after the election. Going places, and then she blotted her copybook somehow and got the chop."

"And now?"

The Commissioner shrugged. "No idea. Never see her any more."

"Precisely," said Jack. "Now, what about Frank Field?"

"Frank Field? Social policies, wasn't he? Up and coming, very promising..."

"...Then blotted his copybook and got the chop," completed Jack. "Don't see anything of him these days."

"Oh, come on, Jack!" said the Commissioner. "A couple of political sackings and you see a murder mystery!"

"It's not a murder mystery," said Jack, "it's just that..." He paused. "Jack Cunningham blotted his copybook in a big way over the ban on beef on the bone," he went on. "It was a very unpopular move. He's got the chop. Frank Dobson got a lot of stick for NHS shortcomings. He's been moved out. Mo Mowlam got a lot of stick for becoming very unpopular in Northern Ireland and has been moved out of there. Peter Mandelson blotted his copybook over a house loan and got the chop at Trade and Industry..."

"Jack! These people haven't disappeared! They're still around!"

"What's Jack Cunningham doing these days?"

The Commissioner opened his mouth and closed it. He couldn't remember. He opened it again.

"Peter Mandelson may have blotted his copybook, but he was rehabilitated quite soon. He was moved into Mo Mowlam's job."

There was a pause. Jack leant forward and stared into the Commissioner's eyes.

"Exactly. He was moved into the post of someone who had just got the chop, Mo Mowlam. And where did Mowlam go? Into the footsteps of Jack Cunningham, who had just got the chop. You can't help feeling that they're all due for the chop again, sir. Chop, chop, chop!"

There was another pause. Jack leant even further forward, until the table halted his progress.

"Jeffrey Archer blotted his copybook; he got the chop. Rumour is that John Prescott is for the chop. Another rumour says that Mick Brown is for the chop. Something's going on, sir, and I intend to find out what it is."

"Good, Jack. When you find out what it is, let me know."

As Jack left the Commissioner's office, the Commissioner was already on the phone to someone.

"Bad news, sir. I think we've been rumbled. I think Jack Wentworth's on to it. Yes... No, it's quite easy. I'll just suspend him from duty till it blows over. Yes, give him the chop, if you like. Yes, ironic, isn't it? Well, irony is all the fashion, I believe."

After he had put the phone down, the Commissioner stared into the distance, coming out of his reverie only to say softly: "South Ken... South Ken..."