Lunch came carried by his food taster, with the finance minister in tow. He was a cowed sort of man, an accountant who understood numbers better than he understood people. There was something inherently hazardous about his role and the thankless task he was about to perform.
The Leader addressed him roughly causing him to retreat further into his shell. The Leader had little respect for accountants, pedantic perfectionists, much consumed by detail and so tending to miss the grand vision.
“Your point for being here is…?” he growled, still watching his food, and deeming him unworthy of both a direct gaze and an honourable title.
The Leader watched his taster with a keen eye, lest he forget the agreed procedure. It was unusual to have these two events together, his food and a visitor. Perhaps one was meant to distract him from the other. A tin of tuna fish, unopened, was left for inspection on his desk, after first being wiped with a cloth. Next to it a warm parcel was placed; it was a round of tanour bread, cooked by his wife and marked in a way that proved it was the genuine article. The coffee was prepared and brewed in front of him on a small portable gas canister which the food taster carried with him. A tin of pears and a tin opener was placed carefully beside the parcel.
They retreated, the Leader and his food taster, to a dark corner of the room to sit on the floor, leaving the finance minister in the doorway, not yet having been invited in. He waited for the eye contact that would let him in. In the circumstances, his hesitation was understandable but his dithering only irritated the Leader more.
“Leave now if you have nothing to say for yourself,” the Leader snapped, but the minister stood his ground. From where the Leader sat, he was hidden by the desk. His voice would have to float disembodied over or around it. He cleared his throat and coughed a number of times. This was not a propitious start.
Eventually, he said, “I have the unpleasant duty, my esteemed guide, to deliver some unpleasing news. Er, I have to inform you that our revolutionary coffers are… almost empty. We have been a mite too generous with expenditure, I fear. Or else there has been some…”
“Empty? How, empty? You have let them get empty?” Here the tremor in the minister’s voice fairly warbled and he cleared his throat again. “Not me personally, sir… Well perhaps not quite empty. That might be a trifle exaggerated. Just not full enough. I have been keeping records fastidiously. And I have always kept you informed, unless for some reason my last memo did not reach you, oh esteemed and just one?”
“This is the first I hear of it. Is there someone playing games with me?” And the Leader shot an evil look in the direction of his minister. “It must be you. You have let them get empty, haven’t you? I repeat, you have let them get empty and failed to tell me. Until now that is.”
“Why would there not be enough? Not enough for what? Step into the room, you wretched man and look at me full square before you say that again.”