Short fiction. A Kate O’Hara TD Story: A Scandal in Ranelagh. The Taoiseach waved at the children through the window of the car as it pulled away from the newly refurbished school. “Did you believe that? That refurbishment cost €900,000 and that woman complained non-stop about what she didn’t have in the school. There are other schools. Get over it,” she said, giving the scowling headmaster an icy smile. Conor Murphy looked at his phone, scrolling through Twitter. “She’s a headmaster. That’s what they’re supposed to do. If you built the school out of gold bars she’d complain she wanted platinum. This look familiar to you?” He handed his phone forward to her in the passenger seat. She looked at the image, adjusted with her thumb and then realised she was looking at a blurry image of a man from the neck down stroking his penis. “Don’t show me that!” she shouted, throwing the phone back at him. He caught it. “It’s not me. It’s been knocking around the web for two days now. They reckon it’s a well known public figure.” “Fake news,” the Taoiseach said, as the car pulled into Merrion Square. “The Times, the Indo and the Irish Times all think it’s real.” “How would they know?” “Story is that some fella robbed a phone and is offering to sell it. This is a taster, apparently.” “Is that legal?” “Depends. Is it blackmail?” “Surely people have a right to privacy?” They had exited the car and were walking up the steps when the secretary to the cabinet, Sean Collins, met them. “The minister for foreign affairs would like a word.” Kate shot a look at Murphy. ***** Patrick Harrington, minister for foreign affairs, was waiting in the Taoiseach’s office on the second floor. He was tall, slim, young, good looking with a beard and actually knowledgable about his brief, something she had discovered was almost a novelty amongst her inherited cabinet. Her predecessor believed in loyalty above everything else except maybe geography. Literacy seemed to come under the “would be an advantage” category. From a Dublin working class background, he’d put himself through college by modelling, then emigrated, returning only a few years ago. He had a taste for very nicely cut suits. The Sunday Times nicknamed him Don Dapper. “Patrick: let me guess. The Russians have dropped another dodgy nuke?” “No, all quiet on my front. Except for a punch-up outside a Limerick night club with two girls who both thought they were dating the same French fighter pilot. I’ve spoken to the squadron commander. Lothario has been confined to barracks to cool his jets. But that’s not why I’m here, I’m afraid.” He removed an envelope from his inside pocket and placed it on the desk. “I presume Conor has told you of footage doing the rounds on the web…”
Short fiction. “You’re joking!” He shook his head. “Been seeing someone. Someone very special, actually. Her phone was lifted when she was out on a night with the girls. Some bastard is trying to sell the footage. Stupid of me, I know. Anyway, I don’t want to embarrass the government, so I’ll do the honourable thing, no fuss.” “Bollocks to that!” Kate said. She buzzed her phone. “I have to bring Conor in on this,” she said. He nodded. Kate buzzed through to Murphy’s office, and summoned him in. On arrival, she briefed him. “Is there more out there?” Murphy asked as he sat down. “Probably.” “Anything spicier?” The foreign minister laughed. “Oh yeah, probably.” “You have to resign.” “I have.” “Well that’s it. We’ll issue a statement, publish a resignation letter, and that’s that…” Murphy said. “No,” Kate said. Murphy swivelled away from the minister. “I’m sorry Taoiseach?” “Let me be clear in my own mind: have you broken any law?” she asked. “I don’t think so.” “And the woman who had these images, she received them consensually?” “She took them!” Harrington said. “Oh yeah, her phone. Alright, and you’re admitting to their existence publicly?” “Of course.” The Taoiseach slumped back in the seat. “I don’t see how this is a resigning matter.” Murphy leaned forward. “All due respect to you, minister, but Taoiseach, your foreign minister is showing his mickey in public.” Harrington leaned in. “Actually, I’m not. These are private images. I mean, I agree with you Conor. I have to resign. But for embarrassing the government. What consenting adult I take pictures with is my own business. I wasn’t hanging around in a bush in Stephen’s Green in a raincoat.” “Semantics!” the advisor said. “No it’s not, Conor. If Patrick wants to do this in the privacy of his own home, that’s not a public interest issue.” “I’m sorry Taoiseach, but the public are very interested in his mickey. Just look at the retweets.” “Aside from public fascination with my genitalia, In fairness to Conor, I have embarrassed the government.” “I’m not embarrassed. This is prurient nonsense. I’m not dismissing one of the few ministers I have who isn’t, you know, an imbecile.” She picked up his resignation. “You’ve a decision to make.” ***** The camera flashes bombarded the tall lean figure of the minister for foreign affairs as he strolled languidly to the podium. There was an unusually large media scrum. Not just pol corrs, but a few international stringers and colour writers too. He even spotted a few gossip columnists.
Short fiction. He paused for a moment, then pointed at the chief political correspondent for The Sunday Indignant. The man seemed surprised to be called, and stuttered out his question. “Minister, there are rumours circulating about a certain image…” “Get to the point, Tom. We’ll be here all night if you try to sanitise the question. There are no Mother Superiors here. Well, hardly any.” That got a laugh. “Alright minister: is that you in the picture of a man, eh, pleasuring himself?” Harrington paused, only a few seconds but just enough for it to sound like an age on TV. “Probably,” Harrington said, and the room went wild. Kate and Murphy, watching in the Taoiseach’s office, stared in silence. A young man opened the door. “Taoiseach, both BBC News and Sky News are cutting live to us.” “Watch this,” Kate said. The reporter shouted over the noise, and the volume in the room reduced slightly. “I’m sorry minister, are you saying this is you?” “As I said, probably. The image isn’t great, but I’m pretty sure that images like that of me are out there. I’m a pretty kinky bastard.” The room goes wild again. The camera flashes are exploding against him, as if he was witnessing an artillery barrage. Murphy looked at his phone. “Twitter’s going wild,” he said. “Twitter’s always going wild about something.” “I mean internationally. He’s trending internationally.” Harrington leaned into the microphone. “A female friend of mine had her phone stolen recently, and we’d taken some pretty...candid pictures. To be honest, that one’s mild, tame even. There’s far more spicy stuff of me out there. I seem to have a vague memory of a Roman Centurion’s uniform.” Absolute bedlam in the room. Murphy laughed out loud. He could almost hear the cartoonists and newspaper designers rushing to their pads. Harrington waved his hands to calm the room. “Let me be clear. I have embarrassed the government, and I offered the Taoiseach my resignation. She very graciously refused it. But there’s no security risk, you know blackmail, because I’m outing myself. I haven’t done anything illegal. This is, plain and simple, embarrassing on a personal level. It’s not a great picture either: if it was taken where I think it was taken I would stress that it was a very cold room. And I’d just had a very cold shower.” The room laughed again. “Who was the woman?” one journalist asked. “None of your business. She’s entitled to her privacy.” “Will you be getting treatment for sex addiction?” another asked. “Oh please, spare me that Beverly Hills nonsense. This isn’t an illness. I like sex. I’m not apologising to anyone for enjoying, you know, a bit of how’s your father. Sorry, I will apologise for using that bizarre 1970s sitcom phrase. That’s unforgivable. But yes, I enjoy vigorously making love. If there are people out there who don’t like that they can go vote for the non-vigorous lovemaking candidates. It’s not like there’s a shortage of them.”” “Do you only sleep with women?” a gossip columnist asked. “So far yes. But who knows? Maybe I haven’t met the right guy.” Murphy was staring at his phone. “Twitter loves him. #GorgeousIrishPol, Getting a lot of support for his candour. He may have pulled this off. Pardon the pun.” She gave him a withering side-look. Harrington took a few more questions, then brought the conference to a close. The conference went viral globally, ending up being shown by late night US talk show hosts, bounced around the web before being covered by the mainstream media. A number of right-
Short fiction. wing US Republicans condemned Harrington as a classic example of a degraded European effeminate. Harrington retweeted them with a #ProudToBeEuropean. ***** Murphy was walking to his car when he saw her. It was hard to miss her. Evie Taylor was very pretty, slim, blonde and striking. Her looks tended to work both ways for her, getting her in some doors whilst also negating the fact that she was an exceptionally talented journalist with a tenacity for a good story. It had made her a celebrity of sorts, which her newspaper loved. Every story or interview she did was a front-page announcement which triggered an onslaught of abuse from a certain type of snob who dismissed her as low-brow. It amused her no end that in savaging her on Twitter they kept retweeting the link to her story, and to her employers’ delight driving traffic to the site. Murphy knew not to dismiss her on her looks. She gave a slow clap. “That, that was good. What’s that Rudy Giuliani saying? Hang a lantern on your troubles?” “Wasn’t my idea. Harrington and the Taoiseach cooked that one up. Seems to have worked.” He opened the car door, and she leaned over the window, resting her chin on her hands, blue eyes dazzling. She was, Murphy thought, exceptionally easy on the eye. “Conor, let me tell you a story. About three years ago I’d had a pretty nasty breakup. It was the weekend of the Centre Party ard fheis.” “The rugby player or the actor?” “The actor.” “Never liked him,” Murphy said. “He was gorgeous, funny, well-built and a lovely boyfriend if you were prepared to share him with every model who breezed through the Marker Bar, and read about it on the front of The Star. I wasn’t. Anyway, I went down to Killarney, ever the professional, filed my stories, then got drunk.” “Good for you.” “In my feeling sorry for myself state I ended up in bed with upcoming bachelor about town deputy Patrick Harrington.” “I don’t blame you, he’s a good-looking lad.” “He’s a very good-looking lad, Conor. He’s got the looks, the style, the charm, and you know what else he’s got, Conor?” “Don’t tell me he gave you the clap?” She took out her phone, and brought up the infamous hazy picture. “He’s got something this poor chap hasn’t got. And plenty of it.” Murphy got into the driving seat. “Evie, I’m feeling inadequate enough in my manhood without Evie Taylor’s Guide to Parliamentary Endowments.” “That’s not Patrick Harrington, Conor.” “What?” Murphy said. “That’s not him. As with so many other aspects of his life, Patrick Harrington is very impressive. More impressive than this chap.” “He said himself. It was a cold room.” “I’m telling you. That’s not him, and I’m going to find out why he’s pretending it is,” she said. ***** After he’d driven out of the carpark, Murphy took a long way home to his flat in Cabra, giving himself time to think. Had Harrington hoodwinked both him and the Taoiseach? Was this part of some sort of long game? Admitting to a smaller scandal to hide a bigger one? Perhaps even leak this picture to inoculate himself to some degree if something more shocking were to come out. Nothing illegal, Murphy thought, Harrington was smart. He’d know that illegal destroyed his career, regardless of what has come out already.
Short fiction. He pulled into Eddie Rockets in Phibsboro as he was starving, and sitting in a back booth tried to figure out whatever it was he was trying to… Then it hit him. Harrington wasn’t trying to protect himself. He was trying to take the rap for someone else. But who? And why? The young minister wasn’t married, his parents were gone. The brother. There was something about his brother, what was it? He pulled out his phone, and after a Google and a slurp of strawberry shake he had it. Murphy flicked through his phone. “We need to talk. About your brother,” Murphy said. Silence on the other end, just for a moment. “Come around to the house in Ranelagh,” Harrington said. ***** Harrington’s house in Ranelagh was very expensive, a three story well-maintained Georgian pile with its own parking. After his scholarship to Trinity, he’d spent a decade on Wall Street where he’d made so much money that he could have chosen never to work again, but instead returned to Ireland and entered politics. He didn’t try to hide his wealth. Harrington, in a crisp white open-necked shirt and jeans opened the door, and waved Murphy in. Even just kicking back he looked good, Murphy thought. He himself was fashionably challenged, with the ability to transform any suit of any cost into looking like he’d slept on a park bench in it. The living room was smaller than he expected, all leather chairs and photos of family. Harrington offered him a beer, which he took, and then directed him to one of two seats facing an open fire. “Nice place,” Murphy said, taking his seat. “The girlfriend reckons it’s too dark. She says when I sit here I look like Roald Dahl about to tell another Tale of the Unexpected. If she had her way she’d have the place lit up like we were conducting an autopsy.” The foreign minister took the other seat. “How’d you figure out Simon?” he asked. The tone was matter of fact as opposed to accusing. “I didn’t. Evie Taylor did. She noticed an absence of girth in the picture, apparently. The first guy in history to ever have a problem with having too big a cock!” Murphy said, raising his glass. Harrington smiled. “Evie. That figures. She’s whip smart, that one.” He looked into the fire for a minute, then continued. “Simon was brain damaged at birth. He’s kind, tries his best, but life is just too...fast, too complicated for him. He’s mad about politics too. Cuts out every article I’m mentioned in, reads every paper...a child’s mind in a man’s body. He went on the web and some bastard pretending to be a blonde girl made him make a fool out of himself, threatened to blackmail him. It would have devastated him if it came out. So I stepped in, took the hit. Kill a small story with a much bigger one.” “That isn’t true,” Murphy said. “That doesn’t matter. This isn’t national interest. It’s not security or corruption. It’s a guy with the hormonal urges of a teenager humiliating himself. No law has been broken. But if he were to see himself in the papers...he’s upset enough that I took the fall. But I know him Connor, better this than the alternative. Will it break?” Murphy shrugged. “Depends on Evie.” “We might have a bit of luck there. She has a streak of decency to her, you know…” “I’m sure she wouldn’t be that hot on the story of how she confirmed your bona fides, I mean, her reputation as it is…”
Short fiction. Harrington darkened. “Not a word about that, Connor. Not a fucking word. If it’s alright for me to put myself about town, it’s alright for her. I’m not putting up with that sexist bullshit.” “Jesus, you’re the real fucking deal, aren’t you?” “I’m serious: she deserves better than that. She gets enough shit as it is. Let me talk to her.” ***** “An interview with you and a chip to be cashed in at a later date,” Murphy said, as the Taoiseach perused her cabinet agenda once more. “A what?” “You know: next time Evie needs a favour, we remember when she was nice to us.” “I hope she doesn’t come looking for a new bypass,” Kate said. “In fairness, I’m not sure she would have run with the story anyway. I mean, it’s one thing if Harrington had been using the brother to cover up for his own indiscretions, but the other way around? Then there’s the whole disability angle. I’m not sure even The Indignant wants to run a story humiliating a fella with his issues. But all’s well.” Kate nodded, and hummed to herself. It wasn’t a musical hum. “What?” Murphy asked. “Well, I was just thinking. Supposing the whole thing was an elaborate...ah, forget it.” “What do you mean?” “Even if it got out...it would make Harrington look even better. Politician takes hit for disabled brother. I mean, he’s probably one of the most famous politicians in the world at the moment.” Murphy stared at her. “You don’t think he did this on purpose?” She shrugged. “I’ve no idea. I’m just saying, if he did, it would be proof of an incredible political mind at work, wouldn’t it?” The door opened and cabinet members started to come in. The End.
Published on Oct 16, 2017
An embarrassing image of a public figure circulating on the web causes a problem for Kate O'Hara's government.