The Plot Thickens

Short Stories Feb 21, 2024

We step reverentially in the footprints of Prime Ministers, Treasurers and Senators. Our seniors’ ukulele group is touring Parliament House in Canberra today, but the guide, Warren, has been a Public Servant for too long. Rehearsed explanations are delivered unenthusiastically and in a monotone. He sounds as though an olive is permanently lodged in a nostril, and Warren intersperses his dull monologue with little whinnying noises as though he’s attempting to dislodge it.

 I’ve become restless. After two earlier cappuccinos, my bladder’s become distended and I need to pee. I raise my hand to ask Warren the location of the ladies’ toilets. My mind had long ago meandered from politics to unfinished jobs back home, so I’m unaware that Warren has just asked the group, “Can somebody suggest a question that a Leader of the Opposition might ask a Prime Minister?” He acknowledges my raised arm with a stifled yawn and a nod.

 “Can you tell me where the Ladies’ Toilets are?” I ask with a hint of urgency.

My ukulele group cracks up, commencing in C major before ramping up to F, then trilling in G7th. My face tingles.

“Sorry. What’s funny?” I ask blankly, casting around for absent cues.

“No, Leaders of the Opposition probably wouldn’t ask that question,” whinnies Warren with glee. “They would undoubtedly know the location of the toilets! They wouldn’t need to ask the Prime Minister, love.”

He’s relishing this. Laughter subsides to C major before the guide notices my discomfort.

“They’re over there. You’d better go dearie,” he snickers without dislodging an olive, and points in their direction.

 I select the cubicle furthest from the door. If anyone enters this bathroom, I’ll be squirreled away, enjoying the privacy of my thoughts, not suffering that sleep-inducing public servant, Warren-What’s-His-Name. After enduring his humiliation, I sit and smoulder in solitude and daydream of whereabouts in Warren I could insert a tenor ukulele. At least I’m avoiding the incessant drone of Australia’s most boring guide in here. Eventually, sharp sounds of clicking heels drag me from my reverie.

 My cubicle is already locked from the inside. I silently raise short legs from the floor and place my sneakers on the toilet seat. No shoes are visible in my cubicle. Should I cough, or speak? Let them know I’m in here? But a discussion near the washbasins cancels out those options.

 Hands are being washed, hair is brushed. My ears are my eyes. A female voice cuts icily through the fragranced air inside the bathroom.

“There’s a sensitive matter I need you to take care of.”

It’s a drawling, nasal voice. Quite familiar. It couldn’t be .... surely not? I swear it sounds just like our Prime Minister! I’ve often heard her being interviewed on TV. Who could forget that voice giving the Leader of the Opposition a well-deserved shellacking about misogyny?

“Just a sec,” hisses another voice, “door’s closed on the end cubicle. I’ll check.”

Busy heels click-clack along tiles and pause outside my cubicle. There’s a rap on my door. I don’t answer. I don’t breathe.

“Anyone in there?” rasps a voice.

Silence again. Knees creak, a skirt rustles. Someone bends down checking for feet under my door. Geez, there’s a distinct lack of privacy in the Parliament House loos.

 Again, knees creak and heels click back towards the washbasins.

“Nah. No-one. Probably kids from one of the school groups. Locked it from the inside then climbed out over the top. Kids think it’s funny.”

 Then I hear the Prime Minister’s chilling reply. Her words slither serpent-like across Prime Ministerial lipstick.

“Listen, I’ve requested this before, but it’s been overlooked. You know I can’t stand Kevin Rudd’s smarmy, smiling face. Butter wouldn’t melt in that mouth. Every time I turn around, he’s there reminding me of what transpired. Make him go away… OK? Get rid of Kevin Rudd. I don’t care how it’s done. Ice him. Now!”

“It’s done,” intones a voice with a menacing growl.

 My nerve-endings spit pellets of lava. I can’t believe her callousness, her spite. My gut muscles contract. When things contract, stuff inside is subject to pressure. It’s a law of physics. So, physics determines that a small amount of gas inside my bowel is forced out. At that moment! It makes only the briefest noise. Just a high-pitched squeak really, but it’s a conversation killer. The voices near the washbasin stop dead.

There’s a hurried whisper, “Someone’s in here! Let’s go.”

 Busted! Their murderous plot has been exposed and they know it. Cracking the doorway of my cubicle, I peer out. They’re click-clacking anxiously towards the exit. My head’s whirling in disbelief. Not Kevin Rudd! I even handed out his how-to-vote pamphlets for the cherubic smile beaming outwards from corflute signs in the ‘Kevin 07’ election. I never predicted that his deputy, this current usurper, would ultimately bring down his Prime-Ministership and she would assume the mantle. Someone’s gotta stop this attempted assassination. But who? Me? I physically struggle holding down the B flat chord on a uke let alone wrestle a would-be murderer. I could scream urgently for security guards from the bowels of the Ladies’ loo but would anyone hear me?

 Fear produces adrenalin and mine kicks in instantly. I’m a 5 foot tall, wisteria-haired grandma weighing less than 50kg. But a bucketload of adrenalin convinces my brain that I’m a 150kg rugby prop forward. With a banshee-pitched scream of “You murderous cow!” I charge at the Prime Minister who pivots around to face me and I slam headfirst into her midriff. Oooomph! She doubles over, bug-eyed and winded, then slumps dramatically towards the floor, sucking hard for air. In the process, I ricochet off her like a pinball and careen headlong into a marble washbasin. There’s a loud, dull thud and I collapse to the tiles, stunned.


Regaining consciousness in a small first-aid room, burly security guards detain me while a paramedic tends to an egg-like contusion on my forehead. Apparently, the Prime Minister is uninjured. I frantically blurt out the plot details I’d overheard and swear pointedly at the foolish security guards because they’re restraining me, the innocent party. Protesting vehemently, I’m led away while Federal Police Officers take down a drawled statement from the Prime Minister about her instruction to remove a grinning cement garden gnome from the Prime Ministerial courtyard… a gnome which factions of her Party had so smugly named ‘Kevin Rudd.’


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