It was the third disappearance that week. Same pattern each time. Always between the age of eighteen and twenty-one, always from Islington. Mrs Campbell sobbed into her handkerchief in the Detective’s squat, dimly-little office as a ceiling fan buzzed overhead.
“I don’t understand it! One morning I just went up to his bedroom, and, and he wasn’t there…so I rang him, and c-called his friends, but…nothing! He was just gone, overnight!”
“Mmm,” was all the Detective said for a moment, thinking steadily. “Mrs Campbell, do you think there was any sign that he…”
“He was always happy! He was so very enthusiastic, so many hobbies…”
“I’m sure, I’m sure. And to speak frankly with you, I’m sure he’s safe and sound.”
“Oh.” Mrs Campbell blinked. “How can you possibly know that?”
“Well…do you know whether Alfred was…politically engaged?”
Mrs Campbell smiled a little then. “Very. He always setting up e-petitions.”
The Detective smiled. Bingo. “He’s not the first, Mrs Campbell. And unless we put a stop to the…” Here she paused, wondering whether it was appropriate to make a pun here “…unless we put a stop to the…momentum that this whole thing is gathering, he certainly won’t be the last.”
The Detective sat at the bar, waiting, and waiting, to see if he’d show up. She knew it would be difficult for him, but she hoped that, deep down, there was some remnant of decency left. Unlikely, but he was her best lead. There was a squeak as someone took the seat next to her.
“Erm,” he mumbled awkwardly. “So – I’ve come to the right person, right?”
“Yes you have,” the Detective replied calmly, taking a glance at him. Although he was old and wrinkled and stiff, and although whenever he tried to reposition himself his limbs creaked and his face grimaced, his hair was as painstakingly coiffed as ever, his mascara carefully applied, his features still etched with the echo of an Action Man figurine.
“Y-you, um,” he stammered. “You have to understand just how…difficult, this is for me…”
“I do. And I’m very grateful you’re helping me.”
“Mmm.” He trembled a little. “I’ve always stayed with them, hoping against hope that maybe, maybe someday…I mean, it wasn’t just about my career, I promise, I wasn’t…”
“I believe you,” she lied.
He bit his lip, and seemed to look at the Detective properly for the first time. “You look strangely familiar. What’s your name?”
“Alice Campbell,” she replied, borrowing her client’s name. She took a sip of her drink, despite it being more froth than alcohol. “You?”
He looked surprised, apparently having not been asked that in a long time. “I think…I think I used to be called…Andy.”
“Well, Andy…please. Take me to your leader.”
Andy Burnham blanched.
She crouched quietly behind a pillar made up of taped-together copies of The Morning Star. It seemed every piece of furniture was comprised of recycled old socialist newspapers. Beyond her furtive position in the corner of this grand underground hall were a gaggle of trilling and excitable pensioners and middle-aged types, with a smattering of fresh-faced young people scattered about.
A bespectacled man sat cross-legged on the floor, before barking into a loudspeaker: “Let the trial begin!” The silence was immediate. From a door at the end of the hall, a miserable-looking Andy led in the equally despondent Parliamentary Labour Party. Both of them.
“Read the charges!” shouted Spectacles.
“Mr Brake and Mr Crow,” Andy spoke sadly, “are charged with criticising the Supreme Leader. Mr Brake was recorded mentioning to a journalist that he disagreed with the Leader’s policy on the ongoing war with Trumpistan. Mr Crow was seen on television suggesting that we work towards something he described as…”
Andy paused, looking sick.
“Go on!” ordered Spectacles, seething.
“…as progressive electability.”
The crowd exploded into a roar of disapproval. While Crow began to tremble in terror, a chant spread out amongst the congregation of members. “DESELECT! DESELECT! DESELECT!”
The Detective had seen enough. While the members were occupied, she began looking for the Leader.
The moment she entered the office, a great and terrible voice boomed all around her.
“WHO DARES DISTURB THE LEADER’S SLUMBER?” it roared.
It was even barer a room than she expected. Yet in one corner, there was a shower curtain shaking to and fro. She smiled, and wandered towards it.
“PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN!” bellowed the artificial voice.
Duly ignoring it, she pulled the curtain back and looked at what she found.
A tiny, wizened old man sat in a wheelchair, hunched up and snaggle-toothed, with part of his nearly century-old body having been supplemented with cyborg parts. He trembled.
“What…what are you doing here…?” he whispered hoarsely.
“You’re Jeremy Corbyn.”
He twitched, and gave a slight nod. “You’re not supposed to be in here. How…how did you get in?”
“Andy gave me a key.”
A look of utter confusion appeared on Corbyn’s face, which was not uncommon. It was quickly replaced with a look of rage, which was.
“He should have remembered what happened to Tristram Hunt…” he muttered darkly.
There was a squawk. The Detective glanced up, and noticed a bright red parrot, perched in a cage. “HITLER!” it shrieked. “HITLER! HITLER!”
“Quiet, Ken,” Corbyn pleaded. He looked up at the Detective, embarrassed. “It’s all he ever seems to say.”
“Mr Corbyn, why are you still Labour leader?”
Corbyn straightened up, with a look of pride in his eyes. “I must survive. For when the revolution comes.”
“It’s not going to come like this. I want it too, you know. I always have.”
“Humph. The members…they trust me. They always will. Do you know that every year since I first became leader, there’s been a leadership election? Every year! And now my mandate is about 97%.”
“But what’s the point? You’ve never won an election.”
Corbyn shrugged. “There are more important things than winning elections. This is the new politics. What are you even doing here? Who are you?”
“I didn’t think you’d recognise me. Do you know about a young man called Alfred Campbell?”
There was a laugh behind them. The Detective spun around.
And Mrs Campbell walked towards them.
For the first time, the Detective was bewildered. And then she knew.
“I’m terribly sorry, Detective,” smirked Mrs Campbell, “but I’m afraid you’ll have to consider yourself…purged.”
Ken squawked merrily. “HITLER! HITLER! HITLER!”
Meekly, Corbyn looked the other way.