The Piper’s Debt: Chapter One – Mr Speaker


There was no quiet before the storm: just mundanity.

In Shakespeare’s retelling of Richard III, the cripple king is haunted by those slain by the hands “sent before their time” the night before he falls in battle.

“A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”

Swish. Chop. Finito.

In truth, he probably had a sleepless night staring at the ceiling, before hobbling from his bed to urinate, eat breakfast and then riding in a field to die.

Boring. Ordinary. Mundane.

Swiftly followed by a cataclysmic event that will change the world.

For a transformation to take place, there needs to be a disturbance to the equilibrium. The equilibrium involves dull processes such as making coffee, ignoring fellow dwellers on the bus (specifically named the X41, nicknamed purgatory), listening to a smug presenter on BBC Radio 2, masturbation.

What did the 9/11 terrorists do the night before the attack? Watch crap television whilst nervously glancing at their watches – waiting for the hand to pass twelve, transforming a normal day in September into a date synonymous with death and destruction?

Did Tony Blair and George W Bush really pray together before agreeing to declare war on Iraq? An everyday practice preceding a decision that would result in mortis ad nauseam. Concluding with the oft-chanted, simplistic “Amen”, funeral directors would see a big boom in business; and a literal boom in their neighbourhoods.


“So be it”.

Mundanity before the storm.

What Mr Speaker was doing before committing a truly awful act was sipping a lovely cup of tea. As all authentic Englishmen know, tea is not just an art form; it is a ritual. The bona fide Anglo-Saxon is a master alchemist in the brew. Rapport – never respect, the Englishman never respects you – is only guaranteed if you answer the following question correctly: what comes first – the water or the milk?

Whilst Americans have to recite the Oath of Allegiance, Blighty’s National Citizenship test is porcelain, not patriotism.

And Mr Speaker was the epitome of the true Englishman.

He was certainly not British; an amusing collective noun lumping the vastly different English, Scottish and Welsh into one sweeping category (not forgetting the diverse regions of these countries – never confuse a Mancunian with a Liverpudlian). To be British is to be loud and brash; to drink cans of Stella whilst spouting casual racism; to be a Brexit voter; to holiday in Magaluf, and only eat fish and chips.

Mr Speaker was a quiet, learned man. Instead of sporting the native football jersey one size too small, he was dressed in an immaculate grey suit – tailored, of course – with a crisp white shirt and creases down the trousers. His thick black hair, alive with volume but undoubtedly sensible, did not betray Mr Speaker’s age, but his eyes did. Hidden behind horn-rimmed glasses from yesteryear were his deep brown eyes, weary. One would never too long into his gaze of his Medusa-like qualities emitted from his cold, hard stare.

The Brit – though, an irritant – is harmless. This Englishman was not.

Mr Speaker was exceptionally cruel.

But this was not noticeable, as he took a sip from the exquisitely designed china produced – funnily enough – in America; albeit from a Chinese-American gentleman called something unpronounceable to Mr Speaker’s hushed, dulcet tones. He would never rid himself of the regional accent he so detested – although he was considered well-spoken and educated; which was hardly difficult with the inhabitants of his hometown. Lancastrian, perhaps? A twang of further north of the border? A hint of West Country? His tongue had become so diluted over the years, only he was fully aware of his origins. There was no doubt his accent was attached to a community, but no-one knew which one. Mr Speaker had disowned the sanctum sanctorum of his childhood, replacing it with a smorgasbord of voices, and has since been of no fixed abode.

He was currently in Cambridge, his alma mater. Pembroke College is one of the smaller campuses at the University, but this compact piece of history felt less alien and more charming as a result. Its grandiose stone walls still stood intimidatingly over its occupants, as though they were judging those within. Unashamedly traditional, Pembroke is a thing of make-believe: the stereotype of pretty young things engaging in fantasy before experiencing life outside of the cocoon – bleak disappointment and underachievement. They became no butterflies as promised; they were moths-in-the-making. But for now, they were Harry Potter at Hogwarts leading glorious lives of promiscuous sex and excessive alcohol consumption.

Mr Speaker was sat behind the tall, aged desk of English literature professor, James Dawson. Books, with their spines as creased as professors’ foreheads, were scattered indiscriminately across the room. Volumes were sitting lazily in an oak bookcase, dusty collections were towered precariously on the desk, the floor and even blocking the sunlight from the window sill. Mr Speaker felt quite comfortable in the professor’s battered leather chair, reclining backwards taking another sip.

Aah. The optimum temperature.

A scratched vinyl span on the surprisingly modern record player, situated in the corner of the office – the only sanctuary from the infestation of books. Whilst the sale of razors suffers tremendously in this hipster age, the vinyl has made a revival. The record player, however retro, was the youngest item in the room.

Nigel Kennedy was performing a beautiful rendition of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, currently in the midst of the Spring concerto. The triumphant, optimistic – almost cheeky – movement was contrapuntal to what was to happen next.

Mr Speaker was indeed quite comfortable – comfortable in the knowledge that he will not be disturbed in the literature scholar’s office. Professor Dawson was tied to a chair in the cellar below. He had been there for two days.

The flowing movement of Kennedy’s bow was disturbed by a loud gong echoing from outside. The deep boom bellowed from the Victorian neo-gothic clock tower, standing erect and aloof on the college’s library.

Mr Speaker gently placed down the now-empty tea vessel atop a well-thumbed copy of Mr Dicken’s Great Expectations.

The mundanity was over. This disruption was going to be something particularly nasty, indeed.


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