January 8, 2015. A large apartment hanging off a hill overlooking one of the world's most beautiful vistas, the sparkling cerulean waters of Sydney Harbour.
"This time we’re going to get him." Grenville turned to Archer, who was gazing at a small craft cutting a wake across the water. Both men were by the glass wall overlooking the harbour, whiskies in hand.
"If you’ll listen, I’ll tell you."
Grenville was short, dark, moustached, and ageing. His kidnapping days were long gone, but he still did a little freelance hacking, and he harboured ideas like some people keep pet chickens.
"I'm all ears." Archer was tall and slim, with a eagle-like nose.
Grenville sipped his scotch and began. "You’ve met my attorney, Shapilo."
Archer nodded. He had. How could he forget? Shapilo had been active in the Griffith area in the seventies, which had been a good time for a lawyer with Calabrian connections.
"Shapilo has been out of circulation for years now." Grenville paused. "But he still knows things."
A pause. "Like what?"
"Like how to get into the Australia Day awards. Without being detected."
Archer's expression didn’t change. "Go on."
"So that’s what we’re going to do," Grenville replied, as if the answer were obvious. "We’re going to sabotage Mr Collegiality 2015's pet knighthood. And doing that will finish him as well! It should also finish his chief of staff, Helga Rolfe, whether she had any part in it or not."
Archer was still impassive. "Who is his pet knighthood? Or Helga Rolfe’s pet knighthood?"
"We don’t know yet. But, being Australia Day, and being a particular kind of year, with the death of a national sporting champion causing national attention and coast to coast mourning; and with that terrorist thing in Martin Place after that, Mr Collegiality 2015 is sure to have gone for a super-popular knighthood – the kind of award that makes every Australian – well, most – feel just that little bit warmer on the national day, and in doing so, improve his stocks, politically speaking. God knows he needs it. And God knows Australia needs a national hero right now to heal the wounds of one of its most difficult years. Plus there was MH17, the other Malaysian one, and Air Asia."
Archer grimaced, walked to the bar, poured another scotch, and offered the bottle to Grenville. "You're right. A national hero."
Grenville went on. "Remember the whole nation is on holiday on January 26. They're all gathered around their barbecues, talking about the morning’s news. And the big news on Australia Day – the only news – is the awards. The OAs. The AMs. But especially, the knighthoods. Bear in mind what the British do. They don’t take it too seriously. Who have they got? Sir Cliff Richard. A middleweight singer who has been around since Adam. Sir Elton John, a piano player married to a bloke – did a few good tunes until Honky Chateau, and then wall-to-wall Lion King. But still. Sir Paul McCartney, because John didn’t want one, or at least didn't want the MBE. And that Lloyd-Webber bloke, for turning theatrical scores into tripe. But that doesn’t matter. The papers love it, and it makes people feel proud of their country, because it's something they did, and the others didn't."
"So who do you think he's picked? An ex-cricketer? A pop singer?"
Grenville shrugged impatiently. "It could be anyone. It doesn’t matter."
He paused. "What matters is that Shapilo is going to break into the awards, change the nomination, and kill off Mr Collegiality 2015's political career in one fell swoop! Once the announcement is made, it will be too late! Who would believe him if he says it wasn’t his choice? He’ll be the laughing stock of the nation!"
Archer drained his glass. "And with whom are you planning to replace his nomination, exactly?"
Grenville smiled. "You’ll see!" Then he laughed out loud. "It will be too funny! Pass the bottle."
January 26, 2015. A newsreader drones the day's lead story on national radio to an audience of 20 million.
"It’s eight o’clock. Here is the news. The Prime Minister has announced the Australia Day awards, which he reintroduced last year to recognise prominent Australians for their achievements."
The newsreader paused, pressing the cough button.
"The major Australia Day award – a knighthood – goes to ... (another slight pause, this time probably involuntary) ... the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip of England.”
January 27, 2015, 4 a.m.
Mr Collegiality 2015 stirred in his sleep. He was having a nightmare. The suddenly, he awoke, sat up in bed, and remembered. It hadn’t been a nightmare at all.
The nightmare was now. There was no Shapilo, no Archer, no Grenville.
It had been all his own work.