House of Cards [CHAPTER 37]



 Thirty-Seven


The nature of ambition is that it requires casualties.


Sunday, November 21

They were still there the following morning just after dawn when Earle looked out. One was asleep, napping under a trilby hat pulled down over his eyes, the other was rifling through the Sunday newspapers. They bore little resemblance to the previous week’s editions. A leadership campaign that had been dead in the water had now, with Urquhart’s intervention and McKenzie’s catastrophe, sprung into life.

  What was more, the pollsters were beginning to wear down the MPs’ resistance. “ALL SQUARE!” declared the Observer, announcing that the 60 percent of the Parliamentary Party they had managed to cajole into giving a view were now evenly split between the three leading candidates—Samuel, Earle, and Woolton, with Urquhart close behind. McKenzie had disappeared without trace, as had the small lead that Samuel had previously enjoyed.

  The news would give no joy to Earle. He had spent a sleepless night, pacing the floors and fending off the questions of his increasingly worried wife. He had tried to find comfort but could see only Simon’s face. The presence of the two journalists had kept nagging at him. How much did they know? Why were they squatting on his doorstep? As the first fingers of dawn began to spread cold and gray in the November sky, he found himself drained. He could resist no longer. He had to know.

  Peters nudged Simmonds awake as the unshaven figure of Earle, his silk dressing gown wrapped tight around him, emerged from the front door of his house and made toward them.

“Works like a dream every time,” Peters said. “Like a mouse after cheese. Let’s see what he has to say for himself, Alf—and turn that bloody tape machine on.”

“Good morning, Mr. Earle,” Peters shouted as Earle approached. “Don’t stand out there in the cold, come sit inside. Care for a cup of coffee?”

“What do you want? Why are you spying on me?” Earle demanded, ignoring the offer.

“Spying, Mr. Earle? Don’t be silly, we’re just looking for a bit of color. You’re a leading candidate to become Prime Minister. Seen the newspapers yet? You’re all over them. People are bound to take more interest in you—about your hobbies, what you do. Who your friends are.”

“I have nothing to say!”

“Could we interview your wife, perhaps?” Simmonds asked.

“What are you implying?” Earle demanded in a contorted, high pitched voice.

“My goodness me nothing at all, sir. By the way, have you seen the photos of your rally yesterday? They’re very good, really clear. We’re thinking of using one on our front page tomorrow. Here, have a look.”

  A hand thrust a large glossy photograph out of the window and waved it under Earle’s nose. He grabbed it, then he gasped. It showed him gripping the hand and looking straight into the eyes of a smiling, simpering Simon. The details were awesomely clear. It almost looked as if some hidden hand had added a trace of eyeliner around Simon’s large eyes and his fleshy, petulant lips appeared to have grown darker, more prominent. The fingers playing with the medallion around his neck were beautifully manicured.

“Know this gentleman well, do you, sir?” Simmonds asked.

“One of your close supporters, is he? And how precisely does he support you, Mr. Earle?” Peters joined in.

  Earle’s hand was trembling. He threw the photograph back through the car window. “What are you trying to do? I deny everything. I shall report your harassment to your editor!”

“Editor, sir? Why, bless me, it’s him what sent us.”






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