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Sunday, February 26, 2006


As I move from divan to chair to stool to floor, my goods and chattels borne aloft by local sale vultures, I see the finishing post loom and am reminded of Paul and his words of widom about the home stretch.

He was a retired secret service type whose tired memoirs I promoted - a spook whose cover had been plamed and wouldn't settle for a desk and the sugary tea and grotty buns they serve down in the canteen.

He'd vanished into the City as some sort of security whizz and then emerged to write his book when the D-Notice no longer applied.

End phase: We'd been walking to some bookshop in north London and I'd muttered contentedly about the winning post being in view.

"Careful, old chap - dangerous sector, the end-phase. Touch of the Stockholm Syndrome: you see things working out the way you've planned and you fall in love with that one solution, lose flexibility and distrust and go with the flow. That's when Sod's Law hit you with a sandbagged sock on the back of the noggin."

Wonderful old guy of the old school, still living in a world of the Great Game.

Bags of fascinating jargon.

One day he phoned me in his usual hushed tones - I kept waiting for him to ask, "I take it we have a clear line?" - to announce, "I fear I may have caused a wheel to come off the op', dear boy."

I thought he meant he'd pranged his Bentley but it was just some interview I'd set up.

"Saw your boy, and well done briefing him so well - I spotted the informed questions - but we rather fell out over the damn'd James Bond probings..

Sorry, but we might have lost that one."

The interviewer himself reported "brill interview, Chris - good one there, mate."

Whereas most of my authors reported, "Seen the interview", Paul would phone to confirm, "Seen the despatches. What do you think? If it's ok by you, old horse ...."

I'd tell him it was fine.

"Just don't want to let you down, old chap."

Whenever we went for a TV interview - which terrified him - as we entered the studio, he'd murmur "red sector, chum".

As actual publication day approached, he'd talk of "end phase" and send me well-wishing cryptic postcards.

When my own publishing house let him go and another took up his disastrous next novel, he'd call me: "God I wish I had you as DIF (Director in Field) - the child they've assigned me lacks any field craft and seems utterly unreliable."

He'd lunch me at strange clubs, peopled by twitchy spooks put out to field, some of them still carrying the marks of heavy questioning or last minute exits of blown missions.

He'd introduce me as "officer Holmes" and I'd try to bulk up and look tough as they shook my hand with direct gaze and that nod shared between fellow agents in the field .

I attended his funeral and I wish I'd had a button-hole camera to snap the faces round the grave: brave men from another time who'd done their  time and been left out to dry.

End phase: And so to my own insignificant finalities.

Change of address: Not only did I leave it too late (one month's notice, yo), but they don't forward to foreign parts.

Which leaves me the option of naming and addressing my ex- and the danger of her opening a bank letter that reveals my win on the lottery and my paltry monthly $575 child support as ... well, paltry.

Accounts cancellation: Everything went fine, everyone precise and efficient, getting the date right, lulling me into false security phase.

Lifeline, Dept of "Ready When You Are, Mr Meyer": My cell phone. I know my script off by heart. I call the number, get a sweetie with the delightful accent of a daughter of Pancho Villa.

She enunciates the script with courtesy and precision.

I give her the date of cancellation - March 6 - and she puts me on gentle hold as she does her thing, returning often to apologize for delay etc..

At last, with many thanks for my patience, confirmation that my account has been cancelled.

"Er ... just to make sure, you *do* have the date right?"

"Yes, your account is cancelled."

"But not now?"

"Yes, your account is now inactive."

"But I said ...."

Forget it.

Her terrified voice at having got anything wrong rang of starving family back home.

"No, that's fine. Excellent. Thanks so much. Very efficient."

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