Fezzer was determined to look his best. He had risen early, and in honour of the occasion put on the yellow and blue spotted tie that went so well with his pink shirt. The blue suit, waist-coated and with mustard silk handkerchief protruding like a miniature pyramid from his top pocket completed the trad-modern look he sought. And, as he was aware, achieved. He could already see the knighthood, the ‘Sir’ appearing on his letterhead.
He took one final look in the mirror, convinced himself that a bow tie would be going just a little too far, and knotted the silky material of his choice.
Checking behind himself that neither of his teenage children were watching, he practised one more bow, determined to get both the correct angle of descent and the respectful but confident look in his eye that would impress anyone, even royalty. Political royalty in this case.
Breakfast, a final brush of the teeth (check for the mint to pop in before the parents arrive) and off to his office.
Fezzer was a man at the top of his game, and he knew it.
The first day of the year was always special. He got to give his favourite assembly, the one about doors only opening for those who push against them. He always finished with a modest little story about himself, how he hadn’t always been such a confident, poised leader. How he had to push at the door to get in the First Team at his Prep School.
‘Take that as your inspiration boys. And girls,’ he would add with a smile. Everybody was valued at Laggers.
The assembly gave such a powerful message, and perfect for the smiling childish faces in front of him. And, he reflected, there would be plenty of doors ahead for one of his new boys. A rather special new boy.
Gubbard. Eleven-year-old Gareth Gubbard, son of the recently elected Prime Minister. Child of the most important (His Majesty apart, of course), the most influential man in the country. Fezzer gave a knowing smile to himself. He knew the reason Gubbard had chosen Laggers. It was in his office. Wearing a yellow tie. Oh yes.
As he had told the staff the previous day, the press would be out in force. Even the TV. He had pictured the scene, over and over again. The black Jaguars would cruise up the drive, less important children and their parents giving way. He would time his descent of the stone steps to the second, arriving just in time to open the car’s rear door from which the special boy would emerge. He could barely fight back the swagger in his smile.
Press lights would flash and cameras would run.
‘Good Morning, sir’ the boy would say ‘It’s such a pleasure to start at Laggers.’ Fezzer would close the door behind the child, smile benignly and let the cameras catch his profile. In the background, other parents would look on in awe at the authority of their child’s headteacher. His staff would stand behind, and he had already advised them that an impromptu patter of applause should follow.
Then, his crowning moments. Old Etonian John Gubbard would emerge and shake his hand before the boy’s mother (he had met her, but the name eluded him) would bend and kiss her son goodbye.
He was undecided whether, at that moment, a gentle, fatherly, hand on the boy’s shoulder should be accompanied by an arm around the back of the First Lady. Or perhaps then would the time for his respectful, but masterful bow.
But, he could trust himself to make the judgement in the moment. The ability to think on his feet was one of his many attributes that made Fezzer proud.
He had prepared his short speech fully. Not too long, or the stutter would emerge, and the Prime Minister might not then have time for a coffee in the study.
‘Note to self,’ he thought, ‘check again that Miss Longbody had ordered croissant from the catering department.’ And the special school jam, not the stuff the boarders ate.
Fezzer checked his watch. Seven forty-five. The first pupils would be arriving soon, and he needed to make sure that there were no badly attired first years with ties askew infiltrating his scene.
Nerves were beginning to tremble in his stomach. A bad sign.
‘Mr Firkin, first children arriving. Ten minutes early. My letter said 8.00 am. I will send them to the dining hall.’
‘F..F…F….First day of term. G…G…Give them some Fl…Fl…Flexibilty.’ Fezzer’s stuttering fears were realised. It was always the Fs and Gs that caused his problem. ‘S…S…Send a f…f…few to the fr…fr…front f…f…for ph…ph…pictures,’ he instructed.
‘Right you are sir.’ Stiffman almost saluted. ‘Blond ones only, as we agreed, sir?’
‘Yes, and Stiffman, remember it’s F…F…F…Fezzer, not F…F…F… my real name. OK?’
Stiffman nodded, but both knew that the deputy’s military training would never allow him to refer to his boss by his preferred nickname.
He left, almost but not quite stifling the heel click that annoyed his Headmaster so much.
Fezzer took another glance at the clock. Five to eight. Seven minutes before the party arrived. He breathed deeply.
Things had not gone quite as planned. The authorities had told him to keep it all as quiet as possible. He should wait until the last moment before revealing the name of his new boy. Security. Fezzer had made sure, discretely, that Miss Longbody dropped an email to the local press – that way it was sure to get out to the BBC. Other than that, only Stiffman and Miss Longbody had been told, and the caterers…oh and Mrs Spital, his Director of Academic Studies. Gubbard was Eton bound, so somebody, probably one of the girls, would need to cede their place in the top sets to him. Beardman had to be told of course, because the boy was certain to be in the First XV, with his father coming from the top school and going on about sporting values and all that in his speeches.
Fezzer shook his head. Beardman.
‘We’ll take a look at him Headmaster’; with his stupid Welsh voice lilting away. Take a look. Take a look! He’d made sure that Beardman was clear. The boy would be in the Firsts, scrum half and captain, even if he was the youngest boy in the team.
‘And it’s F…F…Fezzer.’ He’d departed the discussion with Beardman knowing exactly who was in charge. Fezzer shook his shoulders firmly as he recalled the conversation.
Apart from those, and Stripshank, the boy’s Head of Year, oh and Miss Whistler, his new Head of Music (apparently the boy was a real protégé on the piano), yes, apart from those he’d told nobody.
Everything had been on track. When he’d casually dropped in the wonderful news of his success to the rest of the staff at their beginning of term meeting, they’d been blown away. All were speechless. Clearly, they couldn’t believe the places to which he was driving the school.
Laggers Prep had been a bit of a joke when he’d taken over, school for the rich and thick had been its reputation, before the adjective ‘rich’ had slowly been dropped. But now, the best children, from the best families in the country, would be pouring through the door. He could start to choose to which parents he would say ‘No!’ That painful Zaluma woman, for a start.
He knew he was being silly, but even young Prince Albie would be starting school soon. And why not here?
Then the first doubts crept in. He was circulating the building checking classrooms, pointing out mistakes and mess when he entered that ghastly woman Frangold’s room. Rather than putting up her displays, she was gossiping with Simpson. As always. He’d almost think the two were having an affair, they spent so much time closeted together. But that was impossible because he was sure Simpson was a bit of a, you know. Certainly, he never would have appointed the man. Laggers’ previous head had a lot to answer for.
Anyway, he told them to get back to work, and the woman had just ignored him.
If she wasn’t a female and likely to break down in tears, he’d have properly have told her what was what.
‘Mr Firkin,’ she said, ‘Mr Simpson and I are having an important discussion about our lessons. We are working, not gossiping.’
And then, with him, the Headmaster, still standing there, they’d just resumed their conversation. The minx was outrageous.
‘Mrs Fr…Fr…Frang…g…g…’ He gave up, and left, only the thought of young Gubbard’s arrival offering a little compensation to his shattered authority.
Still, the woman was a good teacher, however annoying she might be. But, he’d get Simpson at some point. Of that he was sure.
The bell rang, eight o clock.
‘Outside!’ Stiffman’s voice bellowed from the nearby dining hall. ‘All boys with blond hair and two girls come with me.’
One last look in the mirror…Fezzer shook with horror. There, on the pristine pink shirt, a splatter of orange marmalade. There was no time to change. He grabbed a tissue, licked it and dabbed violently. The mess spread, and ingrained itself deeper. He glanced towards the bay window to the drive, and there, turning in, was a black jag. He would have no more than 30 seconds. He reached for his pocket, to take out the white cotton handkerchief his wife should have placed there. He could pretend to have a cold, or something, wave it around a bit to distract the PM away from the mess on his shirt. Nothing. Damned woman. This could end his career.
Now panicked, he moved quickly to the door.
‘Good morning Mr Firkin,’ some parent greeted him, small child in tow, but he had no time.
‘E…E…Excuse me,’ as he barged past, dimly aware that the stutter was getting worse.
He flung the door, forcing a smile, hand on heart (plus marmalade stain) and awaited the thrust of microphones and flashes of camera.
Nothing. Just Simpson and Frangold wandering slowly along the path, not even looking as he absorbed the moment, and one scruffy stranger, mobile phone raised for a photograph.
‘Any words for the Mercury, Mr Firkin?’ the man asked.
‘Call me F…F…Fezzer’ he replied automatically. The Jag stopped. Stiffman appeared at the other end of the path, hurrying his fair-haired party along. Fezzer’s eyes searched for the film crew.
He reached for the car’s rear door, determined to redeem something. Only then, with his hand on the handle, did he realise that the back seat was empty.
The boy was already out, heading along the path with bag on his shoulder. The jag revved, and accelerated away. Fezzer was left, mouth agape and hand still outstretched. He was aware of the mobile phone close to his face, and the coffee laced smell of bad breath as the journalist asked once more:
‘Anything to say now, Fezzer?’
Frozen for a second, Fezzer was too good to let these events put him off. There were still parents about, and perhaps a photo opportunity with Stiffman and his blue-eyed boys.
‘Young man!’ he shouted, and Gubbard turned.
‘Yeah, what?’ The boy turned, looked at the manically closing figure and, letting out a cry of fear, thrust his hand into his pocket. The air was filled with a high pitch whistle and in a flash sirens roared and four dark jacketed men leapt from the surrounding bushes. One grabbed the boy and the other three fell on Fezzer, pinning him to the ground.
It took the gabbled shouts of the blond boys to convince the security men that, rather than some deranged kidnapper or moral-less terrorist, it was actually their headmaster who was pinned to the floor.
The officers helped him to his feet, and Fezzer was just in time to see the Mercury man move away.
‘Thanks, Fezzer’ he smiled, waving the camera.
Better men, if such existed, than Fezzer would have crumpled. But the Headmaster needed just the morning to recover his poise.
With new shirt and suit, he returned to his office, instructing Miss Longbody to send for Gubbard. He would make sure the boy was happy, and had been given some due positions of authority in his house and form.
‘Oh, he’s gone home, Fez’ (why was she always so over-familiar when they were alone?) ‘The PM’s office sent a car, he’s got to attend some event with his parents. Family values or something. They’ll be in touch tomorrow.’
And Fezzer’s clouds immediately passed. Of course, the Prime Minister would not come on his son’s first day of school. He wouldn’t detract from this special moment in his boy’s life, starting out in one of Britain’s leading schools. But tomorrow, then they could chat in a leisurely manner.
‘Fezzer’ the PM would say ‘It’s men like you we need in education. Men who know the importance of a good hand shake, and of looking chaps in the eye. Men who can teach our children to grow up in a world of tolerance and equality, and who can put the lower classes at ease with just a word. A leader to create leaders.’ Fezzer would smile graciously, accepting the deserved compliment.
And they would meet regularly, to talk about young Gubbard’s progress, and his preparation for Eton in two years’ time, before moving on to the important stuff. Fezzer would see his ideas echoed in education policy, and before long the meetings would move out of Laggers, and into Number 10.
The afternoon flew, and in the morning, he breakfasted in his dressing gown, so the fat that spattered from his sausage caused no damage.
He was in his office ready and waiting for the call. It came at 8.15.
‘PM’s on the phone, Fez,’ said Miss Longbody as she transferred the call.
‘Prime Minister, what a joy it is…’ Fezzer started, but was interrupted by a clipped voice.
‘Just a private secretary, sir. A courtesy call. The PM’s ratings are a little down. Too much Eton and not enough Barton High, what. The boy’s moved schools, starts this morning at his local comp. Good idea, don’t you think. Press will love it. Thought we’d let you know.’
‘Wh…Wh…Wh’ but the call was ended.
Fezzer collapsed on his desk, falling on his daily paper, where his crumpled suit and marmalade-stained shirt were printed, in all their glory, on the front page of the Mercury.
By Alan Peters