Sir Walter Alistair Remington had a fantasy. It was no small thing; he would have to wait until parliament’s summer recess to fulfil it. In the meantime, he’d try to satiate himself with his usual habit.
‘Good evening, Walter.’ He was well-liked by his colleagues.
‘Night, Walt.’ He was well-liked by members of the opposition.
‘See you next week, Walter.’ He was well-liked by the prime minister.
He was well-liked because he cultivated a persona. He dressed up as a throwback. Sometimes he wore a top hat to official events. He swore that it was a family heirloom, but an aide had picked it up from a joke shop. He found that – as long as you used long words, said vague, positive things about King and country, and dressed like a Victorian time traveller – nobody really cared about your voting record. It had earned him record majorities in the quaint borough of Tuttlebridge-East, where he pretended to live. Tonight, though, he would be staying in London.
‘Here will do,’ he told his driver. ‘I like to walk through the park.’
He stepped out of the car and – once the vehicle was out of sight – took out his phone. Walter had several phones. This was his dating app phone.
It was dark. Mock-gas lamps lit the road, but the park lay in gloom. Walter quietly opened the gate and discerned a faint glow in the mid-distance – somebody leaning against a tree, looking at their phone.
‘Hello,’ Walter said, putting on a pair of leather gloves.
‘Hi,’ said the man. ‘I’ve never met anyone like this, in the dark. In a park. It’s very eighties.’
‘Yes, well,’ said Walter, ‘I don’t like to be seen.’
‘So… where do you want to go? What do you want to do?’
‘I have an idea.’
Walter led the man to the edge of the park. There was a battered old car parked on a sideroad, under a dead streetlight. As he waited for Walter to unlock the doors, the man put out his palms. ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘It’s starting to rain.’
‘That’s good.’ Walter stopped fumbling with his keys, and walked around to where the man was standing. ‘That makes this part easier.’ Walter produced a knife from his pocket and swung it deftly, opening the man’s throat. He fell to the pavement, and his blood was washed clear by the intensifying rain. It all happened in silence.
Walter dragged the body into the backseat and drove to his nearest property. A groundfloor flat with a garage. No neighbours. He drove the car inside and sat quietly for a while. He liked to sit and think.
A single lightbulb illuminated the dingy garage, lighting Walter’s way as he finally hauled the body onto a workbench and prepared it for dinner. He boiled the head, which eased removal of the brain. He knew he shouldn’t, but he liked to eat the brain. It was like tofu but better. He set some aside for frying in sesame oil, and then turned his attention to the limbs. He sighed. This man was slim. Why were men so slim these days?
He disposed of the waste – the Thames was not far – and moved the choice cuts into the kitchen. He had a large chest freezer stocked with bags of meat. He stored the limbstuff (what little he’d managed to scrape), but retained the brain for supper, as was his wont. A sesame scent filled the flat and lulled Walter into a gentle sleep.
He didn’t keep a record, but this happened about once a month. It was Walter’s habit. But it was not his fantasy.
‘I want to be eaten,’ he’d confided in one man before killing him.
‘Just my leg,’ he’d told another, between jabs of the blade. ‘Nothing fatal. I want to watch it happen.’
When parliament retired for the summer, Walter immediately set about securing his fantasy. He would delay no longer. He was starting to feel ill, and colleagues had begun to notice his tremors. He’d deferred the pleasure for long enough. He called an old friend.
‘You’re ready?’ said the friend. ‘You’re actually ready? I thought you’d never ask. Every time we go to recess I hope for this call.’
‘Yes, it’s about time, I think,’ said Walter. ‘I fear the years are having their way with me.’ He held the phone with both hands to prevent it from shaking.
‘Alright. Where are you?’
‘Ah, at home, for once. You relax. I’ll be there shortly.’
It happened as they’d always planned it. Walter lay back in the bath, sufficiently drugged, as his friend got to work on his right leg. They’d dragged the record player into the bathroom, and listened to ‘The Lark Ascending’ as the limb was carefully removed. After ensuring that Walter would not bleed to death, his friend fried strips from the leg and sat on the toilet lid to eat them.
‘Did you use sesame oil?’ Walter asked, smiling in a daze of pleasure and morphine.
‘Yes.’ The friend took another mouthful.
‘Good.’ Walter sank lower into the bath, blissful, hands linked on his chest. ‘I always employ sesame oil when I eat the brains.’
‘You shouldn’t eat brains, old chap.’ He wiped his mouth and rooted around the kneecap with his fork. ‘Not good for you.’
‘No, no,’ said Walter. ‘No, of course. I only tried it once.’ He noticed that his hands were shaking, and he lowered them out of sight.
‘Do you have a plan, by the way? What are you going to say happened to your leg?’ He gestured at Walter’s new stump with his cutlery.
‘Oh, I don’t know,’ Walter said, waving away the question. ‘I have a doctor friend. He’ll install a prosthetic for me. I’ll come up with something. Anyway, stop pestering me with administrative queries – I feel like I’m at work. I’m supposed to be enjoying myself. Eat some more. Yes, that bit. Oh, jolly good. Oh, yes.’
Sir Walter Alistair Remington was fulfilled. He rested in his house, cancelling constituency surgeries and ribbon-cutting events on account of ‘illness’, and organised his classical music collection. He refused visitors, and got used to hopping around with the aid of a stick. His doctor friend had yet to provide a false limb.
Walter had expected that the fulfilment of his ultimate fantasy would quell his hunger. He thought that finally stroking the raw nerves of bliss might soothe his compulsion. As the days passed, he realised that he was mistaken. Every time he ate biscuits and teacakes, salmon and potatoes, he would hallucinate the smell of sesame oil, and hear in his mind’s ear the sizzle of the pan. He would find himself imagining the flavours and textures of television presenters.
He was quick to relent, and to accept that there was life after fantasy. He retrieved the dating app phone from his desk. He didn’t usually do this in Tuttlebridge. He tried to stick to London, with its anonymising parks and broken streetlights. Tuttlebridge was bright and open, but he couldn’t return to London yet, not without his false leg. He switched on the phone.
He dallied for several hours. In London, it was easy. Meet in a dark spot, car parked nearby. Here in Tuttlebridge, there were no dark spots, and Walter wouldn’t be driving anywhere. But he was hungry; he could smell sesame oil on everything. He dwelt on it for the afternoon, and then made an unprecedented decision – he would invite somebody to his house.
The knock came late in the evening. Walter hurried – as fast as he could hurry – to the door, leaving the kitchen in its state of preparation. He opened the door, urging the matter along lest a nosey neighbour glimpse the meeting.
‘Yes, please come in,’ he said to the backlit figure in the doorframe.
Figures, actually. Multiple.
‘Don’t mind if we do,’ said one of them. They pushed past Walter into the house; three of them, all tall and heavy. One held a sheaf of papers; another, a phone.
They closed the door behind them, and Walter gripped his stick, struggling to remain upright. ‘Who are you?’ he barked. ‘I didn’t invite three people – ’
‘No,’ said one of the men. ‘You invited one teenager, didn’t you?’
‘Don’t play dumb,’ said the one with the papers. ‘We’ve got the transcript. You’ve been chatting with her all day, told her she could “come over”. How old did she say she was?’
‘I haven’t the foggiest conception of what you’re talking about,’ said Walter, trying to edge his way back toward the kitchen, where the knives lay glittering on the table.
‘Here, look. You introduce yourself, and the girl tells you her age. And then you invite her round! How sick is that?’
‘Well, it’s not what it looks like,’ said Walter. ‘Honestly.’ He groped behind him for the kitchen door, and slowly clicked it open.
‘Have you got that on yet?’ asked the man with the papers.
‘No,’ said the one with the phone. ‘Signal keeps dying.’
‘We’re gonna livestream this, mate,’ said the leader, whose own hands were intimidatingly empty. ‘Everyone’s gonna know what you’re into.’
Walter swung around on his stick, and staggered into the kitchen. He slammed and locked the door behind him. He hobbled toward the knives, but his trembling leg gave way. He fell hard, and his walking stick skittered away across the tiles.
‘You can’t hide in there, mate,’ shouted one of the men. Walter tried to crawl, but was halted by a painful wetness at his stump. The fall had opened his stitches, and he was bleeding through his corduroys. ‘Have you got a signal yet?’ the voice murmured, before turning back to Walter through the door. ‘When we get a signal…’ It murmured again. ‘Go and find his router, get the password.’
Walter listened to the hubbub with decreasing interest. He was exposed. Not for the right thing, but exposed nonetheless. He was alone on the kitchen floor with his sins, free of recourse or friends, and a huge man in a hoodie was clattering about in the sitting room for his Wi-Fi router. Before he sank into unconsciousness, Walter reflected that these were strange circumstances in which to bleed to death, and tried to conjure ‘The Lark Ascending’ and the smell of sesame oil.
The door was open. That was the next thing Walter could recall. He was blinking up into the light, and the kitchen door was open. He wondered loosely if the universe had restored life to him for the purpose of experiencing punishment, perhaps at the feet and fists of his three intruders.
He was mistaken.
A figure loomed over him, hand outstretched. Its other hand held the walking stick. Its voice gradually became clear.
‘… and I’ve rebandaged your leg. I was surprised when he told me you’d finally gone ahead with it. Said you tasted like pheasant.’
Walter was lifted up on his foot, and leaned against the worktop. The walking stick was reinstated. Walter gazed at the newcomer, and recognised a friend. Not the one who’d eaten his leg, but a mutual acquaintance.
‘What are you doing here?’ Walter asked weakly. He looked through the kitchen doorway, and saw bleach and binbags and all the other familiar accoutrements of clean-up. His knives were gone from the table, soaking now in the sink.
‘Saving your skin,’ said the friend, dusting Walter down. ‘I left Cheltenham as soon as I saw that you were getting back into that business.’ He nodded toward the phone on the counter.
‘How on Earth did you…?’ Walter looked between the phone and his friend. ‘How did you see that I was…?’
‘Come on, Walter. You know this, you helped pass the legislation. Your phone is monitored just like everybody else’s, with all your little apps and messages. As soon as it lit up, I knew you’d be stumbling into some sort of trouble, hopping around with one leg.’ He looked around, at the binbags and the knives in the sink. ‘I didn’t know it’d be quite this bad, admittedly. I was listening in the car. Through your phone. Heard the whole thing and put my foot down.’
‘Oh. Well, thank you for coming so swiftly, and for… assisting.’
‘It’s no problem. Well, it is, but you’re a friend. I’ll speak to your doctor, too. Get you that new leg in a jiffy.’ He stood up to leave, and paused by the door. ‘You should say “car accident”, by the way. When people find out that you’ve lost a leg, say you had a car accident. It’s believable, it’s sympathetic. You could campaign on potholes at the next election.’
Walter raised a thankful hand, withered and shaking.
‘Are you alright? Very trembly, there.’
‘Mmm. I think I’m coming down with something.’
‘Look after yourself. I’ve left a couple of bags in your freezer. And save that – ’ He nodded again to the phone. ‘ – for London.’
Walter did as he was told. With the resumption of parliament, he returned to the capital and trouped back into the House of Commons with the rest of his colleagues. They were pleased to see him, posing with his top hat and asking about his leg.
The Speaker called for order, and the prime minister rose to address the House. He touched on events that had taken place over the summer – deaths and terrorist incidents and an important football match he was advised to mention, achieving the requisite cheers and jeers – and then turned to Sir Walter Alistair Remington, MP for Tuttlebridge-East. The House fell into respectful silence.
‘We were all terribly aggrieved,’ the prime minister said, ‘to hear of the car accident that claimed the leg of our Right Honourable Friend Sir Walter Alistair Remington, proud MP for Tuttlebridge-East and our former Home Secretary.’ The House murmured in agreement. ‘I’m sure I speak for everybody when I wish you Godspeed in your recovery – and also when I say that something needs to be done about these damnable potholes.’
The House laughed. The old man trembled in his seat, clutched his walking stick, and managed a smile.