BONG! The last of the sonorous chimes of the Louis Quinze ormolu time piece rang out across the Chief's bedroom. Midnight. In less than a minute those reports written by Mr Ferret, that interfering little beancounter, would be published and the press feeding frenzy would begin.
The Chief sat up in his monogrammed silk pyjamas and looked across the room. Sleep was impossible.
There was the life sized photographic portrait of Meryl, wrapped in her best chihuahua furs, staring sternly ahead as she confronted a mob of unwashed protesters outside some doomed village school. Over there was a framed letter from Buckingham Palace. He read the familiar words.
"It is with great pleasure that We bestow on our humble and loyal servant [insert name] the High Office and Distinction of Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for services to Local Government and keeping those uppity Taffs under control. ER (Queen)."
His reveries were interrupted by the familiar cough of Smithers, the butler.
"I thought you might like a midnight snack, Sir. Special Edition Duchy Originals and a cup of Camilla's Myddfai gorse infusion. It says on the packet that it will fortify you for the challenges which lie ahead and soothe a troubled brow."
"Ah, Smithers, and very reasonable at £3.50 per serving too. I suppose you have some messages for me?"
"Indeed, Sir. Ms Klebb from the Press Office is growing increasingly desperate. The journalists are demanding a statement, and she has now phoned 23 times to ask for guidance."
"Tell her to say, 'We shall give the matter careful consideration at our forthcoming meeting in June. In the meantime there is no further comment'. That should shut them up for a few hours."
"Very good, Sir. I have told the, ahem, "Leader" and the others to call back after lunch tomorrow when you have rested."
The Chief slept fitfully. His dreams were filled with lurid images of rodents and slippery things wearing press badges. There were some familiar faces peering out at him from behind the whiskers and forked tongues. The reptiles from the BBC up the road, little Lewis from the Guardian, that Shipton character and Garry Owen, a born troublemaker if ever there was. Then there were the bloggers, hammering away at their keyboards, and cheering them all on were the ranks of opposition councillors: Whippersnapper Pryce, that bolshy little reverend, the awful woman with the red hair, and a wild, druidic figure in a pink pullover shouting in Welsh from a mountain top.
His troubled slumbers were at length disturbed by another cough. It was Smithers.
"Good afternoon, Sir. It is one minute past twelve, and I have brought you some lunch".
The Chief was momentarily perplexed. One minute past twelve? Was this some sort of waking nightmare, a groundhog day?
His mind was settled by the murky light of another rainswept Welsh afternoon outside. Had he really slept that long? The royal gorse infusion certainly had something to recommend it, despite the foul taste.
Smithers coughed again.
"It's Loughor cockles, Sir."
"Good God, Smithers, are you trying to kill me? I'll just have a piece of toast. And what about the vegetables?"
"I have summoned the Executive Board to a briefing in the Servants Hall for 4 o'clock sharp", Smithers replied before adding, "Mr Mudge is on the telephone and says it is very urgent. May I put him through, Sir?"
"Very well, Smithers", said the Chief as he took his first sip of Myddfai dockleaf and organic sawdust tea.
Moments later the excited voice of Mr Mudge could be heard at the other end of the line.
"Sir, I have drafted an urgent press release which I would like to run past you."
The Chief sighed. "Get on with it, man."
Mudge cleared his throat and began to read haltingly.
"This authority totally rejects the findings of these people from the Cardiff Bubble. They are ostriches in the sand, running around like headless chickens while we make the 'ard decisions as a dream team. At the end of the day and to be totally honest, it comes down to jobs, jobs, jobs. I would like to thank..."
The Chief's patience snapped. "Jobs! It's about MY job, you fool. Now get off the line while I put together a message to the world with Ms Klebb".
After a most productive afternoon, the Chief donned his grey trenchcoat and went down to the Servants Hall. There they all were, lined up and ready to hear his message. Meryl in a stunning dalmatian and otter pelt matinée jacket, the dog woman in her brown trouser suit, the dishevelled figure of Mudge, and the posh woman who could read books. Plus others whose names he could not quite remember.
"It is so good to see that you are making a recovery. Honi soit qui mal y pense, if I may say so, Sir", purred Ms Tremble.
"The fight back begins here!" replied the Chief, wondering what Ms Tremble's last comment actually meant. "I have for you a statement which is for immediate release and publication in the People's Journal and Star."
He paused and began to read Ms Klebb's words.
"It is in acknowledgement of the supreme sacrifice and personal devotion of our beloved Chief to his thankless duties in running this ungrateful backwater that the Authority has undertaken the measures it has, fully in the knowledge that Mr Quentin Monie-Baggs QC had concurred that what we were doing was quite possibly on the right side of the law, and that with a fair wind and the right judge, we might just get away with it.
In doing what is only his job, the Chief has been pilloried and criticised. He has not asked for much, and that is why, based on the expert advice of Wonga-wonga Finance (Guernsey) Ltd., the authority agreed to pay him a paltry pension in advance of his retirement so that he might enjoy a living wage.
As a caring employer, we did what was only right and proper.
It is for these reasons that we have no option but to instruct our solicitors to begin immediate proceedings against this unwarranted and despicable interference in our affairs. We shall fight them on the beaches, and quite possibly all the way to the Supreme Court."
The words were greeted with a round of applause by the assembled board before they were dismissed, the Chief's final words ringing in their ears.
"It's business as usual, ladies and gentlemen. We shall never surrender!"