Secrets, planning and purification! Fletcher and Andrews get together at Andrews’ wellness clinic in the latest installment of Neil Mason’s controversial debut novel There There My Dear. Enjoy Chapter Thirteen of the highly original story that may not be entirely fiction. And if you’ve missed out on the earlier chapters, just follow this link to catch up!
There There My Dear
Graeme Fletcher was not a well man. While working as the political editor for the Observer in the late 1980s and early 90s, he had developed an appetite for a number of vices that had steered his life in the direction of failing health. Now just four years off his seventieth birthday, Fletcher was beginning to fear that he would not make it even to the end of the year.
His most significant problem was not his physical health. Rather his addiction to controversy and scandal, although only at the higher end of the social or political scale. He was not, and never had been, one for footballers’ antics or soap- stars aberrations. What enthralled Fletcher was the frailty of character demonstrated by those in control whenever their power was threatened in any way. He had always known what to expect but it always amazed him that every politician, business leader or aristocrat caught in the middle of controversy would favour exactly the same tactic: deny everything and claim to be offended. Over the years the stories had always been the same, just the characters and the lovers/drugs/amounts of money/ levels of corruption would change.
Graeme Fletcher had observed that, in times of duress, it was natural for the well-heeled to believe that they could bluff their way out of anything and that the public would believe their excuses. It seemed to them only right that the common man should accept what they are told and carry on regardless.
At the very height of his career Fletcher had authored a number of pieces exposing shady goings on in and around the corridors of power. He had published the article that detailed the extent of the corrupt practices shared by union leaders and front bench Labour politicians, as well as the piece that foreshortened Michael Sills’ political career. He did not restrict his attacks to members of the Labour Party – he was very happy to go after Liberal Democrats with equal gusto. In fact, it seemed like sport to him.
His biggest Liberal Democrat scalp was in the form of the former Leader of the Party whose alcohol addiction had brought the party to its knees. For Fletcher the joy had kept on coming because, immediately after the politician’s confession and commitment to staying on the wagon, he had fallen off and started a fight after vomiting on a young woman outside a pub.
Graeme Fletcher’s medications acted on a plethora of ailments and it was his physician’s brilliance with balancing all the pills that was keeping him from complete renal or cerebral or coronary failure. Considering the severity of all of his conditions, Graeme Fletcher had the steadiest of hands. Admittedly they were rather mottled.
‘Kyle, it’s me. I need to meet you.’ Fletcher held the phone a little way from his ear.
‘Look, Graeme, I’ve got a lot on this morning but – hey – why don’t you come over at about noon and I’ll take you with me for a bit of a lunchtime treat. What do you say?’ Andrews genuinely was excited at the prospect of taking Fletcher with him to his Wellness Therapist.
Across the city Joseph Bartrum was still trying to understand the scope and ramifications of what he had just learnt at No. 10. While the Offices of the Deputy Prime Minister were busy and packed full of people, they had felt blighted and insignificant to him that morning.
He stood in the middle of his office and, against his norm, did not look out over the cityscape of East London. Instead he looked out through the glass walls at the men and women carrying out their duties. Some of the staff enjoyed constant variety in their jobs, dealing with new projects, revising older ones and consulting on future developments. These Civil Servants kept odd hours and, presumably, had very patient life-partners or none at all. Others revelled in the repetitive nature of their roles and placed great value in the regularity of their working hours, confident that they can always get home by six o’clock.
None of them knew what Bartrum knew. In fact, there were fewer than a dozen people in the whole country who knew, and some of those were only privy to part of the story. Globally, there were two hundred and seventy-two individuals aware of the situation and each of them knew the importance of keeping the secret.
As he stood there, motionless and silent, he did not feel the smugness that comes typically whenever somebody knows such a secret. He felt quite vacant in his mind, coming to terms with the whole thing.
Such a contrast to other occasions when he had a piece of information that empowered him over his opponents, gave him the upper hand and a feeling of being in control. Under those circumstances the secret is an asset, an advantage and something of benefit. There had been several incidents when he had used secrets to make his own situation a bit better. At times he had used the information openly and taken advantage a variety of media to spread the word as fast as wildfire. On other occasions he had utilised the more delicate secrets covertly and in private, avoiding any media coverage in order to maintain the respectable image of the establishment. So he believed. Sometimes this power, this ownership, made him feel omnipotent, a sensation he enjoyed on a deep and meaningful level.
In that moment Bartrum may have reached a perfect trance state. His eyes focused on nothing in particular and he was not listening to a specific voice or conversation. Yet he was in tune with everything around him. He could hear everything as a cacophony or individual sounds, see everything as a whole or as abstracts. This feeling always reminded him of staring out of the window on a rainy afternoon, staring at nothing at all and losing all sense of time and space. Not a bad feeling. Not at all.
Bartrum did not know how long he had been staring. He knew that he felt a comfortable sensation of hopelessness and that he was powerless to change anything but that it did not really matter – the pressure was off. The knowledge of the situation was enough to make him realise that he knew so little. If the secret, a plan that had been forged nearly seventy years ago, had been kept for so long and by so few, then what else did he not know about the political world? What other interests were vested, who was really in control, what was the truth? Who knew what?
As he stood there his mind raced ahead into the future and he saw his own truth, his own two destinies – the one where he reveals the secret and the one where he carries on as if he never knew that particular truth. Neither appealed. One promised some kind of hero status followed by death due to an unfortunate accident or assassination, the other offered a longer life filled with angst and frustration and, no doubt, a reliance on alcohol.
Steadily, not breaking the Zen-like mood, he turned and walked to his desk, sat down in his well-padded leather chair and opened the bottom-right draw to retrieve a bottle of single malt whisky. It was his subconscious telling him not to consider going to the press with The Secret. A tiny part of his ego died along with the deep and meaningful sensation of omnipotence.
Graeme Fletcher was reminded of the fact that he was not a well man and this was evidenced by the odd noises emanating from him during his treatment. Over the last few years he had become accustomed to numerous procedures administered by qualified medical practitioners. This felt different. As he’d had no expectations he didn’t have any reference points, but the facial treatment, the manicure and the pedicure, the offer of cosmetic injections and a stint in an oxygen tank all seemed unnecessary to him. But he had to get close to Andrews. He had to have time alone with him. His mission was to warn Andrews that his show, so far unnamed, was at risk from snoopers working for the government.
Fletcher knew firsthand that the early episodes of the world-famous televised presidential debates in America had previously suffered from allegations of subterfuge and espionage. From its inception back in 1960, the televised series of debates in America had attracted massive audiences and, by their very existence, they had influenced the political landscape of the entire world. And Fletcher knew that, behind the scenes, unscrupulous men paid good money to know what was going to be said, when it was going to be said and by whom. He would never suggest that a Saturday night light entertainment programme was as important as the presidential elections, but the programme’s format certainly would constitute a forum for free-thinking debate.
And no government wants that.
That first debate between Richard Nixon and John F Kennedy set the template for the rest of the world for the rest of time. Fletcher was thirteen years old at the time and living in the United States as his family had moved there in the late 1950s. He remembered the evening of the debate as his father had allowed him to stay up late to watch the broadcast.
Although the detail was still fuzzy in his head, Fletcher could recall being in the den with his mother, father and brother. Mother had stood by the kitchen door while father had taken berth in his usual armchair. When the debate had started Fletcher’s father had cursed under his breath and let his hands drop to his lap. Kennedy had appeared tanned, relaxed and super-confident while Nixon had looked pale, pasty and nervous. The content of the debate had no longer mattered and Fletcher’s father released a massive sigh before stepping across to the sideboard to pour himself a whisky.
‘It doesn’t matter what he says about China now. Nobody’s going to care what that man says. What a waste of my time.’
After uttering those words Fletcher’s father had left the room and went to sit in his study. As the television spectacle continued in the den, Fletcher had watched his father becoming agitated at his desk and then tear up a piece of paper before throwing it into the small waste paper basket near the window. It was that piece of paper that had revealed to Fletcher an astonishing and very uncomfortable truth – that his father had already known what Nixon was going to talk about. On the scrap of paper Fletcher had read ‘N to focus on two Chinese Islands. K has no policy.’
It would be several years before Fletcher learnt the significance of that discarded piece of paper. He had kept that scrap for some reason that was not obvious when hewas thirteen. It was when he went to university that it had dawned on him that his father had been involved in gaining information. That had become his inspiration to become an investigative journalist. That had been the lighting of the blue touch-paper to his long and successful career. The career that had led to his being involved in a derivative of a knobbly knees competition.
Wrapped in a fluffy dressing gown and with furry slippers hanging off his toes, Fletcher perked up when Andrews returned from the oxygen chamber.
‘Do you really feel any better?’ Fletcher asked.
‘Better? I feel purified,’ came Andrews’ response.
‘Is that tobacco I can smell? Have you just been for a…’
‘Purified, like I said. Now, what did you want to speak with me about?’
Propped up awkwardly on a kind of chaise longue, Fletcher thought about his next words. With all his knowledge, experience and finesse, he appreciated fully the impact of a prosaic introduction followed by a dramatic announcement. He had used the technique so often over years that it had almost become a habit. However, he felt that he did not have time for such a performance. In fact, he felt as if he could die at any moment, such was the efficacy of the wellness treatment. This was probably due to the therapies that may have released a heap of toxins from various parts of his body into his bloodstream. Carpe Diem.
‘I think your programme will be spied on by government agents.’
Andrews reclined in his chair. It matched Fletchers but Andrews looked more at home as he made himself comfortable, leant back and closed his eyes. A pensioner and a middle- aged man, swathed in the fluffiest bright white gowns with matching slippers protecting their pampered feet, the distinct fusion scent of peppermint and jasmine filling the temperate air, and the topic of conversation was the suspicion that the Prime Minister would send spooks to a television studio to see what was going on. Kyle Andrews was in heaven.
‘What makes you think that?’
Fletcher explained his fears and pointed out that the men in power would never jeopardise their status. He cited the manipulation of the number of petitioners posted on government websites, stating that the figures were adjusted downwards in order to avoid any difficult subjects making it to the House of Commons. He pointed out that, depending on the type of contestant on the show, the programme may become the only place where genuine manifestos would be made public to an audience of millions. This, then, would force the major parties to actually produce tangible policies prior to elections in the future. In turn this would make the parties really set out their stalls and try to curry favour with an electorate using truth and clarity.
‘Graeme, listen to me. Don’t, for one minute, think that I have not thought about all this. It is exactly what I want to happen…’
‘For your own political gains? Is that it?’ interjected Fletcher.
‘I said listen. Look, I really don’t care what the government thinks about the show. With all the hoo-ha about the press and the police and the government, nobody will want to interfere with…what? A programme aimed at…a programme like this.’
‘What, or whom, is it aimed at?’
‘Like I said, I have no message to put out there. I just want people to hear new ideas and for them to actually think about things. That’s all.’
‘I still think you need to be careful. What if you get radicals coming on to the auditions? What will you do about them?’
Andrews paused and rolled his eyes towards the ceiling. ‘I still can’t think of a name for the show. I’ll call a meeting. Are you free on Friday?’
Fletcher, so accustomed to calling the shots, understood that Andrews was not going to speak about the risks attached to running the show. Instead he agreed that he would be free on Friday and he decided that he would air his views in the boardroom. That would force Andrews to consider the matter and he would have to come up with something that appeased all of the panellists.
Andrews looked across at Fletcher. For a brief moment he checked the room for any other people. Happy that there were none, he nearly raised an eyebrow and gave a half-smile to his flustered companion, revelling in what was to come. He accepted that Fletcher’s views were those of a man with years of experience in the political world, and he recognised the potential for turmoil once the programme aired. But this was not a concern for him – he was simply interested in becoming even more famous.
To Be Continued…
If you’re enjoying There There My Dear (and I sincerely hope you are), you may be interested to know that I’m currently working hard on the sequel. I’ll keep you updated on that as things develop.
And don’t forget, you can be a part of the conversation by following my Facebook Page . See you there.
Chapter Fourteen to be published next week.
Very best wishes,
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