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McGrotty and Ludmilla by Alasdair Gray

Read Online McGrotty and Ludmilla by Alasdair Gray Fiction Book

Overview: Mungo McGrotty’s career in Whitehall is going nowhere. But when he finds the mysterious (and deadly) Harbinger Report, he realises he can blackmail his way to the very top.
This twisted Grayian retelling of the Aladdin story under the Thatcher regime sees our hero rise from pawn to power. But at what cost?

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McGrotty and Ludmilla by Alasdair Gray

Read Online McGrotty and Ludmilla by Alasdair Gray Book Chapter One

THE MINISTRY OF SOCIAL STABILITY was created at the end of the nineteenth century to counteract the damage done by the spread of literacy and the granting of the vote to all male householders. Its marble-floored corridors, panelled in mahogany, still have the polished gleam they possessed when Victoria reigned. Those who work here are as wealthy as their predecessors of the last century, though they often deny it. They believe the loss of a worldwide colonial empire is an accident which befell less essential ministries. Their job is still to discipline, depress, pacify or (in years of crisis when the nation must move as one) bribe the poorer half of the British electorate.
Along one of these corridors two senior officials walked at an unhurried, thoughtful pace, for they were just digesting a good lunch taken at a nearby club. They discussed the long-awaited Harbinger Report, or rather, one discussed while the other made listening sounds.
“Every organization needs a great deal of corruption, of course, to stop it becoming rigid, callous and inefficient,” said Arthur Shots, “But even corruption can be carried too far.”
He was a pompous big man, but too competent, too rich, too dangerously selfish to be a figure of fun.
“I find that worrying,” said Charlie Gold, who was less weighty than Shots, and knew it, and always told him as little as possible.
“Impeachment is still an ugly word,” said Shots. “Everybody knows the Foreign Office is a pretty sinister show. You and I know it’s an innocent babe in arms compared with the R.S.P.C.A.”
“I find that very worrying.”
“Poor Harbinger!” said Shots, with a sigh.
“Why poor?”
“He’s near the brink.”
“What brink?”
“He’s on the verge.”
“What verge?”
“Verge of crackup. Brink of breakdown.”
“Well,” said Gold, “I do find that very, very wo —”
Messages in this ministry are sent from office to office in steel cases secured by obsolescent brass padlocks. Sometimes new employees of the messenger grade try to show zeal by carrying them instead of pushing them in the trolleys provided. A figure, staggering from a side corridor with a stack of cases reaching to its nose, nearly trampled on Charlie Gold’s foot.
“Mind where you’re going!” cried Arthur Shots. The messenger recoiled violently in the wrong direction. His heel trampled hard on a different foot. Arthur Shots’ public school training had made a stoic of him but the pain was unexpected and his deafening scream quite natural. He hopped on the uninjured foot, feeling the other for broken bones. The messenger, by a clumsy kind of jig, managed to stop the stack of cases toppling then retreated sideways down the corridor saying, “I didnae do that deliberately, you know! All the same, I’m sorry! I mean, I really am sorry!” His grieved, indignant tone suggested his own foot had been trampled on. Shots’ enraged glare turned to mere distaste, and then astonishment at finding himself so close to one so dishevelled and gaunt.
“I mean,” bleated the messenger in a voice which grew louder and more bitter the further he receded, “if you want me to whine and grovel I’ll whine and grovel but it’ll do no good! None at all!”
He turned a corner. Shots looked to Gold for an explanation.
“I’m afraid he’s attached to my office,” said Gold with sincere regret. “Been with me a week. He’s a hopeless case. I doubt if he’ll last.”
“Hopeless is he? Hm,” said Shots, and entered his own office.
THE OUTER ROOM WAS OCCUPIED by Miss Panther, Sir Arthur’s principal secretary. She did not type or take dictation but received, phoned, dictated, and often sat perfectly still, waiting. She wore a black suit. Her smooth, unlined face could have been any age between thirty and sixty. Arthur Shots and she worked well together. He did not understand her and did not need to. She understood him thoroughly.
She was waiting when he limped past her desk to his inner office. They exchanged no sign until suddenly, as if struck by a thought, he turned and asked, “Anything doing, Miss Panther?”
Her voice was gentle, distinct, inflexible.
“I’m afraid not, Sir Arthur. Someone’s secretary phoned but said there was nothing doing.”
“I can wait.”
He hitched a buttock and thigh over a corner of the desk, switched on a bright smile and looked down at her. She looked straight back with no change of expression. He said, “You and I have seen a great deal of foul weather together, Miss Panther. Remember the Loch Ness oil leak? And the scandal over the rogue-virus shares which nearly put the whole nation in quarantine? Material has lain upon this desk”—he thumped it—“which could have provoked revolutions, overturned governments and made you a very rich woman. But you have never once given me cause to doubt your loyalty. You are discretion itself.”
“Thank you, Sir Arthur.”
“I mention this because I intend to question you on a matter so seemingly trivial that you might mention it casually to someone and I want that not to happen.”
She said, “It shall not happen, Sir Arthur.”
“Who is the Scotchman with the disgusting necktie?”
“He is called Mungo McGrotty.”
“Clever, is he?”
“I gather not, Sir Arthur.”
“Just average intelligence then?”
“I gather not, Sir Arthur.”
“Surely he shows some symptoms of low animal cunning?”
“I gather not even that, Sir Arthur.”
“Then how did he get here?”
She reminded him that the last Minister of Social Stability had been criticised in the House for employing nobody but Etonians, so the present Minister sometimes employed people with no kind of background in order not to seem elitist. He preferred them to be fools because clever ones daunted him. Shots paced up and down the room then said, very deliberately, “Miss Panther, I want to know more of this fellow. Fetch me his file and anything else you can discreetly discover.”
He turned toward the inner office but she said, “Sir Arthur!” so he looked back. She stood behind the desk holding out a brown manila folder. She said, “I think this contains all you wish to know about Mungo McGrotty.” He raised his eyebrows and took the folder saying with emphasis, “Thank you, Miss Panther.”
He left the room and she sat down to wait again. Astonishing Arthur Shots was one of her satisfactions. Another was the cool aesthetic pleasure she found in helping him weave a fine web which only they perceived. It was invisible to the human flies trapped therein.

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