House of Cards [CHAPTER 29]



Some political careers are like a book that has been misfiled in the British Library. It’s a small mistake, as mistakes go, but the result is perpetual oblivion.

Friday, October 29—Saturday, October 30

“This what you want?”

  Krajewski’s tone still carried the hurt of their last encounter. He’d been avoiding Mattie in the newsroom since then but now he was leaning over her shoulder, careful not to get too close, clutching a large manila envelope in his hand. He let it drop in front of her, and from it she withdrew a 10x12 color photograph. The face of the driver stared at her, grainy and distorted but with reasonable clarity.

  “Freddie came up trumps,” Krajewski continued. “He took this along to his AA meeting last night and the group leader recognized it immediately. The name is Dr. Robert Christian, who’s a well-known authority on the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction. Runs a treatment center in a large private house near the south coast in Kent. Find Dr. Christian, and my bet is you’ve found your Charlie.”

“Johnnie, I don’t know how to thank you,” she said excitedly.

But already he had gone.

* * *

The following day, Saturday, wasn’t a working one for Mattie. Immediately after an early lunch she climbed into her old BMW, filled it with petrol, and pointed it in the direction of Dover. The traffic was heavy as she barged her way through the shopping crowds of Greenwich before she emerged onto the A2, the old Roman road which pointed the way from London into the heart of Kent. It took her past the cathedral town of Canterbury and a few miles beyond she turned off at the picturesque village of Barham. Her road map wasn’t particularly helpful in finding the even smaller village of Norbington nearby but with the help of several locals she found herself some while later outside a large Victorian house, bearing a subdued sign in the shrubbery that declared itself to be the Fellowship Treatment Center.

  There were several cars in the leafy driveway and the front door was open. She was surprised to see people wandering around with apparent freedom, and no sign of the formidable white-coated nurses she had expected to find patrolling the grounds for potential escapees. She parked her car on the road and, sucking a mint for courage, walked cautiously up the drive.

  A large, tweed-suited gentleman with a white military mustache approached and her heart sank. This was surely the security patrol in pursuit of intruders.

“Excuse me, my dear,” he said in a clipped accent as he intercepted her by the front door. “Have you seen any member of staff about? They like to keep out of the way on family visiting days, but you ought to be able to find one when you need them.”

  Mattie offered her apologies and smiled in relief. Fortune had followed her and she had struck the best possible day to avoid awkward questions. The place had the atmosphere of a fashionable country retreat rather than an institution; no straitjackets, no restraints, no locks on the doors, no institutional smells. She found a fire safety map on the wall of the hallway with a detailed plan of the house, which Mattie used to guide herself around the premises in search of her quarry. She found him outside on a garden bench, staring out across the valley in the last of the October sun. Her discovery gave her no joy. She had come to deceive.

“Why, Charlie!” she exclaimed, sitting herself down beside him. “What a surprise to find you here.”

  He looked at her with a total lack of comprehension. He seemed worn down, his reactions slow, as though his mind was in some faraway place. “I…I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “I don’t recognize…”

“Mattie Storin. You remember, of course you do. We spent a thoroughly enjoyable evening together in Bournemouth a couple of weeks ago.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Miss Storin. I don’t remember. You see, I’m an alcoholic, that’s why I’m here, and I’m afraid I was in no condition a few weeks ago to remember very much at all.”

She was taken aback by his frankness while he smiled serenely.

“Please don’t be embarrassed, my dear,” he said, patting her hand like an elderly uncle. “I’m an addict. Trying to cure myself. Had a million ways of hiding it from everyone but only managed to fool myself. Want to get better. That’s what this treatment center is all about.”

Mattie blushed deeply. She had intruded into the private world of a sick man and felt ashamed.

“Charlie, if you don’t remember who I am, then you won’t remember I’m a journalist.”

The hand was withdrawn, the smile disappeared, replaced by a look of resignation. “Bugger. And you look such a nice girl. Suppose it had to happen sometime, although Henry was hoping I could be left alone here quietly…”

“Charlie, please believe me, I haven’t come here to make life difficult for you. I want to help.”

“They all say that, don’t they?”

“Don’t say anything for the moment, just let me talk a little.”

“Oh, all right. Not as if I’m going anywhere.”

“Your brother, the Prime Minister, has been forced to resign because of allegations that he helped you buy and sell shares to make a quick profit.”

He started waving his hand to bring her to a halt but she brushed his protest aside.

“Charlie, none of this makes any sense to me. It just doesn’t add up. I think someone was deliberately trying to undermine your brother by accusing you.”

“Really?” His old oyster eyes began to wobble with interest. “Who would do that?”

“I don’t know. I only have suspicions. I came to see if you could point me

toward something more solid.”

“Miss Storin—Mattie, may I call you that? You said we were old friends…

I’m a drunk. I can’t even remember meeting you. So how can I be of help? My word carries no weight whatsoever.”

“I’m neither a judge nor a prosecutor, Charlie. I’m just trying to piece together a puzzle from a thousand scattered shards.”

His weary eyes searched beyond the hills toward Dover and the Channel, as though a different world lay out there. “Mattie, I’ve tried so hard to remember, believe me. The thought that I have disgraced Henry and forced him to resign is almost more than I can bear. But I don’t know what the truth is. I can’t help you. Can’t even help myself.”

“Wouldn’t you remember something about buying so many shares?”

“I’ve been very sick. And very drunk. There are many things I have absolutely no recollection of.”

“Wouldn’t you have remembered where you got the money from, or what you did with the proceeds?”

“It does seem unlikely I would have had a small fortune lying around without my remembering it or, more likely, spending it on alcohol. And I’ve no idea where the money could have gone. Even I can’t drink away £50,000 in just a few weeks.”

“What about the false address in Paddington?”

“Yes, they mentioned something about that. A complete mystery. I don’t even know where Praed Street in Paddington is when I’m sober, so it is preposterous to suppose I would have found my way there drunk. It’s the other side of London from where I live.”

“But you used it—so they say—for your bank and subscription to the Party’s literature service.”

  Charles Collingridge suddenly roared with laughter, so violently that tears began gathering at the corners of his eyes. “Mattie, my dear, you’re beginning to restore my faith in myself. No matter how drunk I was, I could never have shown any interest in political propaganda. I object when the stuff is pushed through my letterbox at election time; having to pay for it every month would be an insult!”

“No literature?”


  Autumn leaves scuttled across the lawn. The sun was settling lower and a warm, red glow filled the sky, lighting up his face. He seemed to be visibly returning to health, and to be content.

“I can’t prove a thing. But on my word as a gentleman, I don’t believe I am guilty of the things they say I have done.” He took her hand once more and squeezed it. “Mattie, it would mean a lot to me if you believed that, too.”

“I do, Charlie, very much. And I’m going to try to prove it for you.” She rose to leave.

“I’ve enjoyed your visit, Mattie. Now that we are such old friends, please come again.”

“I shall. But in the meantime, I’ve got a bit of digging to do.”

* * *

It was late by the time she got back to London that evening. The first editions of the Sunday newspapers were already on the streets. She bought a heavy pile of them and, with magazines and inserts slipping from her laden arms, threw them on the back seat of her car. It was then she noticed the Sunday Times headline.

  The Education Secretary, Harold Earle, not a noted Greenpeace lover, had just announced his intention to stand for the leadership and launched his campaign with a speech entitled “Clean Up Our Country.”

“We have talked endlessly about the problems of our inner cities, yet they continue to decline, and the impoverished state of our inner cities has been matched by the degeneration of our countryside,” the Sunday Times reported him as saying. “For too long we have neglected such issues. Recycled expressions of concern are no substitute for positive action. It’s time we backed our fine words with fine deeds. The opinion polls show that the environment is an issue on which the voters say we have failed. After more than twelve years in office, they are right to say that this is unacceptable, and we must wake up to these concerns.”

“Now why is the Education Secretary making such a fuss about environmental matters?” she asked herself as she came to the end of his thunderous speech. “Silly me. I’m getting slow in my old age. Can’t decipher the code. Which Cabinet Minister is supposed to be responsible for environmental matters, and therefore responsible for this mess?”

  The public fight to eliminate Michael Samuel had begun.





Which book you would like to read next? Comment Below.

Don't forget to share this post!


Popular posts from this blog

Wealth is What You Don't See

The art of staying young while growing old

‘Making People Glad To Do What You Want'