'An inventor of fantasies is a poor creature, heaven knows, when all the world is at war.' —Arthur Machen
'Somebody really likes you!' said the voice on the phone.
It was my agent. Yes, that's right, I actually had an agent. I still couldn't quite believe it myself.
And yes, that was undisguised surprise in his voice that someone from London had enquired about me.
Years of beavering away at my true vocation while enduring a string of shitty day jobs had finally paid off. Well, sort of. Success had been gradual; publication in small journals, followed by a few minor competition wins, culminating in a Northern Authors Prize for New Talent. The prize in question being representation by one Dave Silver, Literary Agent, who hawked my stuff around with slightly more success than I had on my own, but still delivering no publishing deal as such.
In short, just when I thought I'd arrived, the work hadn't. The dream life had failed to materialize, I still had no money and I was getting heartily sick of beans on toast.
You see, Dave wanted a novel, thought he could sell that more easily than short stories.
'Novels are the mark of the serious writer,' he was always telling me. 'A novel requires commitment. I'm not asking you to sell your soul, Martin, just get a grip and apply yourself. Are you a serious about this or not? You decide.'
Worse still, he had a big problem with Spec-Fi—Speculative Fiction—my genre of choice.
'What the hell is it anyway?' he asked me on our first meeting.
I told him it was about ideas, about seamlessly blending the possible and the plausible, challenging the reader's imagination and inviting him to examine more closely the world around him. Isn't that what fiction should be about? Not for Dave Silver.
'Aliens and shit? Robot insects? Christ, Martin, grow up. I can't shift that sort of stuff these days. People want real life; serial killers, psychopaths. Can't you give me a good murder?'
And so we'd fought on; me struggling to get my stories past him, and him badgering me for a novel I couldn't be bothered to start, so you can guess how excited I was with this enquiry for my services and wondered just who it had come from.
'That's the funny thing, they were very tight-lipped,' he replied with a frown. 'It could be a big deal or it might be nothing, I honestly don't know —but they were adamant about seeing you down there in person. Alone. They'll only talk to you.' He sounded a little put out at that.
I asked how I was meant to get to London without any money and for once he surprised me when he said he'd already booked a train and hotel for me.
'I'm guessing it's not First Class, though, is it?' I sneered. I knew he'd send me on the Mega Bus for £1 if he could, the tight bastard.
'If you get a contract you can upgrade on the train back, OK? Now I can't say fairer than that, can I?' Well he could, but he never did.
'And Martin, watch that mouth of yours; don't upset them. Just get in and out with a deal, OK?'
So that was how I ended up travelling to King's Cross, tightly clutching the address of my erstwhile benefactor and baking in the hothouse of a Standard Class carriage for four hours of the hottest summer I can remember.
The hotel turned out to be a shabby little hole next to the station where the shower was purely for decoration and the low bed concealed its horrors under a crispy carapace of duvet. Thanks to the obliging heat of the night I slept in an armchair by the open window with the small consolation that squalor was meant to be conducive to the creative temperament.
I must confess to being slightly disappointed to find that Curzon House was not in the centre of Oxford Street as my provincial naïveté had led me to believe. Rather, it was three miserable tubes and a tiring twenty minute slog from the station. They've got a cheek to call it London, they really have.
Wherever it was, it was sorely run-down and as I approached my destination I reflected that Curzon House couldn't have looked less like a publishing house if it tried. To call it non-descript isn't just a lazy description; it really was a bland, charcoal-grey slab of a building, easily home to a regional welfare benefits office.
At the smoked-glass front door I was buzzed through an unlit reception and led up a flight of stairs by a diminutive security guard labelled 'Rob'. The whole place exuded disuse and neglect; the fabric wall covering ripped in places and the carpet about as thin as it could be while remaining intact.
I was directed to a moulded plastic seat in a gloomy waiting room while Rob struggled up onto a high stool behind a narrow desk bearing a live CCTV feed. For the next ten minutes I sat in a humid twenty-five-degree silence scrutinizing Rob while he in turn perused his copy of The Sun.
Finally a door opened to my right and a tall American gentleman warmly invited me to follow him. The office I entered, although certainly brighter than the waiting room, was pretty bare; just a desk, two chairs and a bookcase—furnished by the same design-free suppliers of all government equipment, I expect. The yellow walls of the 1980s civil service suggested I could have been right about the building's original function and the only decoration was a paint-spattered Fire Regulation.
'Good to meet you! I'm Paul Barfield,' beamed my host in introduction and a slim but strong, hairy hand reached out for mine, the other guiding me to a seat before the desk. He was handsome in an understated way, a bit over six feet and slim, about forty five, I would guess. Wire-framed glasses atop a long, sharp nose gave an impression of intelligence and he sported the short-sleeved shirt and tie look favoured by Americans.
'I'm attached to the embassy here,' he added matter-of-factly, which, if intended as an explanation, only served to confuse. I'd only ever encountered that phrase as a euphemism for a certain line of work in a certain type of thriller.
'Before we get started, just a little bit of paperwork to do,' he rolled his eyes theatrically, 'Red tape, huh?' and flashed two stapled documents under my nose. 'Don't worry, it's only a formality. Just sign there...and there.' The only word I thought I recognised in the blur was 'SECRET' alongside some official-looking crests but it was difficult to be sure because as I signed I was simultaneously subjected to a master class in misdirection. A tap on the shoulder, a finger on the page, a squeeze on the arm, all accompanied by an incessant stream of small talk about my journey ('awfully long') and the weather ('quite remarkable'). It was like being mugged by a stage magician and before I knew it, the trick complete, he pushed the papers out of my reach and sat himself behind the desk.
'Well, Marty, let me tell you I am a big fan of yours. A huge fan!'
As opening lines go, that was a belter and I allowed myself to relax a little, maybe overlook the sleight-of-hand and perhaps even forgive the liberty he had taken with my name. Flattery will do that.
I composed a modest look on my face; professional and serene.
'Oh, don't give me that humble English crap!' He wasn't buying it.
'You know you're good. You, my friend, are very good.' He made himself comfortable, sliding down in his chair until I half expected him to put his feet up on the desk.
'I've been following your work for some time now,' he announced and I watched as he reached over his shoulder to retrieve from the bookcase a pile of papers consisting of photocopies, folded-back journals and magazines, all liberally mottled with yellow highlighter. He was holding everything I'd ever published.
'I especially liked "Hurry Down Doomsday",' he ruffled through the sheaf of papers, 'Yes, here it is, published in "Nebulus" back in 2005.'
I bit back the urge to state in my own defence that it was a very early work and that I've improved my craft considerably since then.
'Very...prescient,' Paul reviewed the text before him. 'Cyborg insects, powered by bio-electrical fuel cells, deployed as listening devices. Bugs, eh?' he smiled broadly at me over the sheaf of photocopies.
'That was the reference,' I answered politely, returning the smile.
'Would it surprise you, Marty,' he continued, 'if I told you that these things actually exist?'
It certainly did and I told him so.
'Yeah, HI-MEMS we call them, it's a programme out of DARPA, the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency. Been making these things for years', he flicked the page.
With a horrible, sinking certainty I suddenly thought I knew where all of this was going. 'I can assure you,' I exhorted over the desk, 'I had absolutely no idea...'
'Relax, Marty!' Paul laughed heartily, 'That's not why you're here. That programme goes way back and is very highly classified. And it'll stay that way, yes?' He tapped the documents I'd just signed before returning to my work.
'Then there was "Industrial Disease". Another good one. "Schattenreich", 2007. In that you have bacteria, genetically engineered with molecular circuitry and logic gates, capable of being programmed. You've got them used in assassinations, following an individual's DNA profile.'
He looked up at me thoughtfully and I sensed a genuine respect. I wasn't used to that.
'This is excellent stuff—you must really do your research—and again, very prescient...' he gave me another knowing smile.
'Is it?' I asked meekly.
'Well, the first part, certainly. As for the rest, give it five years. No, Marty, you're here solely because you impress me so much. I only wish I'd seen your work a lot sooner.'
This was incredible; someone appreciating my work like this was fantastic, obviously, but coming from a completely unexpected quarter. Who exactly were these people 'attached to the embassy' who had time to sit around reading my stories all day? And then with a prescience of his own, Paul obliged.
'Let me tell you who we are,' he stood and began pacing the room. 'I head up a department which looks at innovative ways to defend the interests of the West. First and foremost, we're ideas people. We serve a number of departments; research and development, intelligence, planning, et cetera. Now, you know how the government's got people watching the universities, snapping up new stuff there? Well, we read fiction.'
He took a break from his pacing to study me, gauging my reaction. 'Is that really so far-fetched, Marty?'
At first I think it probably was, but like a lot of things when presented as 'fact', it rapidly became less so.
'Authors are, after all, creative types,' Paul went on. 'Did you know that Arthur C. Clarke first described the communications satellite? Now, where'd we be without that?'
I kept my fleeting glimpse of a more languid world to myself; it almost certainly wasn't what he wanted to hear right now.
'You should be proud, Marty, because the whole story begins here in the UK. There's a long tradition in this country of cooperation between your most far-sighted authors and defence work.'
He resumed his pacing with renewed purpose.
'Great men like C.S. Forester and C. Day-Lewis worked in propaganda during World War Two. Roald Dahl was involved in vital intelligence work and Ian Fleming—well, what can I say?—he came up with ideas you would not believe! Some of his work's still not public knowledge to this day.'
'And Dennis Wheatley—you know, The Devil Rides Out guy—he was a member of Churchill's war cabinet. Yeah, a lot of British writers helped in the fight against Hitler—you see, their imaginations were just as vital to the war effort as any weapon. Then after the war, my department just kinda followed up on the idea, formalized the arrangement, let's say.'
'But our enemies also saw the potential. You hear about Solarcon?' he paused again and looked at me expectantly. I shook my head.
'Hmm. Well, some of that got out,' he muttered to himself with a grimace. 'Anyway, a bunch of Nazis in the States tried to infiltrate Science Fiction stories back in the 50s. And then there were the Reds—' he gave a chuckle of grudging respect, '—those guys never let up, I can tell you. McCarthy wasn't wrong about everything—but then you know what they say about broken clocks, eh?' he laughed. I was getting to like this guy; he undoubtedly knew his stuff, was clearly intelligent and well-read. Oh, and he liked my work. Yes, I was definitely warming to him.
He crossed to the window and flung it wide open, which came as a blessed relief in that heat. Taking out a pack of cigarettes, he lit one and perched himself on the edge of the desk, looking down his nose at me silently while he smoked, the way an eagle might eye a fish. I didn't exactly feel threatened but I could tell he was weighing me up for something.
'Imagine a scenario where your undoubted genius for invention,' he paused for me to appreciate the play on words, 'combined with our guys' technical know-how, could benefit both of us. I want to offer you a job, Marty. You keep up the good work, send your stories to me and we pay you very well indeed. You like the sound of that?'
It certainly had its appeal.
'And you'd be doing a service to your country and her allies.'
I averred on that one with a tight smile. 'Would I be working directly for your, erm...agency?' I wanted to know.
Paul blew out the last of his smoke and flicked the butt with impressive precision through the open window. 'Let's call you a consultant.'
I definitely liked the sound of that—the more distance the better. As much as I liked him, I'd feel much more comfortable keeping his friends at arm's length.
'I'm assuming my stories wouldn't be published, though, would they?' 'No, 'fraid not,' he stated plainly. 'They'd never be allowed to see the light of day. But you'd get good money and regular work doing what you love. You can even bin that novel your agent's been pestering you for—I know you're not keen on that. You like short stories; it's what you're good at.'
He was certainly pushing the right buttons and he clearly knew a lot more about me that I'd realised, been doing a bit of research of his own. But that shouldn't have surprised me, should it? Not under the circumstances.
'And remember,' he added, finger poised delicately over the master switch, 'you'd be part of a long and noble tradition.'
At least he didn't insult me with any guff about keeping the world safe for democracy. Yes, of course, the whole thing made me distinctly uneasy but I was sorely tempted. At last I'd be a professional writer: The Dream would have come true. Here, at last, was someone who genuinely appreciated my work and was willing to pay handsomely for it. I thought of all those shitty little jobs, eating away at my soul, and of all the doubters, the cynics, the mockers and the rejections—I could finally tell them all to fuck right off. And no more bloody beans.
So I gratefully accepted Paul's offer and as I left his down-at-heel building that day, it was with a curious sense of finally arriving.
For the next six months I wrote constantly, committing every single idea to paper and sending the stories, at the rate of around one a month, to a PO Box address supplied by Paul. The quality and the word count varied, I'll grant you, but that was never part of the deal.
And in return came the cheques, as regular as clockwork—big ones too—and Dave was happy to bank his 10%. Everyone's a winner.
Such was my jubilation that only rarely during that time did I ever pause to think of the unlikely scenario I was now a part of.
But one thing did rankle; not being reviewed by my peers. Lack of feedback meant that standards soon began to slip until eventually any old shit would do. Imagery and theme, language and characterisation, all went out of the window as deftly as one of Paul's cigarette butts. Hell, some of them didn't even have a plot as far as you'd recognise.
True, I was doing what I loved but I missed being enjoyed, entertaining and challenging people, not just raising the occasional eyebrow of a captive audience of one. This was the craft I'd worked long and hard at and now I wasn't really practicing it. It seemed such a shame that the skills I'd spent so long honing weren't being used; characters denied their day in the sun, locations never explored, dialogue never to be uttered.
But to bemoan such things in my fortunate position seemed churlish, so I stuffed these anxieties into a dark corner at the back of my mind. Likewise the initial doubts, the ethical concerns I'd shelved as soon as the first cheque cashed, convincing myself I was no more responsible for government policy than a civil servant. All packed neatly away.
That day, that impossible day, began with me lugging my laptop around the usual circuit of coffee shops and libraries, researching background on an idea I'd had. Something in the news had piqued my interest and was coalescing into a story but I'd come to a dead end and given up in frustration. Tired and irritable, on the way home I decided on a drink in the Station Hotel, whose late lounge bar was an occasional haunt of mine and which seemed to attract other writers. I'd often see them, scribbling furtively in notebooks as I sat, nursing a cappuccino or a whiskey for several hours. For me it was the perfect location for a relaxing read, to work on a story or just to think over a problem.
It was a dry but biting November evening when I pushed on the ornate revolving door and passed into a world apart, one of soft lighting and sumptuous decor, where a timeless air of gentility had somehow managed to prevail; the Station exuded class while avoiding ostentation. Most evenings a pianist gently tinkled away on a baby grand in the corner at a level which didn't interfere with the scribblers or the readers and even the talkers instinctively hushed their conversations in deference.
A large space dominated by a suitably grand bar, the lounge was about as full as it ever got; perhaps twenty or thirty people dotted about, either alone or in small groups, served by waiters who flitted about like immaculate insects. On the far wall hung the largest mirror I have ever seen, bordered in gilt, in the centre of which stood another me waiting to be served. Mirrors have always made me uncomfortable; as a child someone told me they were windows to Hell.
After receiving my whiskey, carefully selected from the comprehensive array on offer, I was about to take a seat when I saw a character I recognised—barely—across the room. Beneath the mirror, alone and reading, his back to the wall, was Jack Lonsdale.
Like yours truly, Jack had once been tipped as a name to watch; the next big thing in local literary circles. A good ten years older than myself, he'd published a crime thriller a few years ago but I'd heard nothing of him since. I can't pretend I actually liked the man—his self-assurance too often carried him to the cusp of cockiness—but that damned professional curiosity got the better of me and I crossed to where he sat hunched over a small table, huddled in a dark overcoat.
Before him, in the pale glow of the table's shaded candle, sat an orange juice by his left hand and a document he was closely scrutinising. He looked up at me with a start until a wave of recognition crossed his face, a face I couldn't help notice looked deeply troubled. Even allowing for the low light, I could see how much he'd aged in what, three years?
Pain of one sort or another had played its part, evident in the encroachment of lines across his pallid skin and in the sleepless eyes. The hair, once dark and floppy, now shot with grey, scraped back in no particular style. I guessed at serious illness but whatever had happened in this man's life it had left no room for that trademark conceit.
'Oh hi,' he offered up with scant welcome while artfully concealing the page in front of him. 'Long time, no see.'
'Yeah, it is. So what you doing now?' I probed, regardless of his obvious discomfort.
'Oh...erm...a couple of projects, another novel, you know?' came the badly fudged reply. Without invitation I took the seat opposite and he grudgingly slipped his reading matter into a briefcase at his side on the red velvet bench, next to which, I noticed in the half-light, lay a woollen scarf and a fedora.
'How about you?'—a reciprocation devoid of any actual interest.
I gave him a line about a short story compilation for an American publisher and he suddenly looked at me as if I'd kicked him hard under the table. 'Paul?' he ventured cautiously, like the proffered password in a clandestine rendezvous.
'Barfield', I nodded, supplying the required response. Jack sighed with what I first took to be relief and certainly his anxiety seemed to lift briefly but when it returned it was somehow different, possessed of a resentful, self-loathing quality.
'Me too,' he sighed, tired eyes scanning the room. 'Two years now.'
'Well there's a turn-up,' I took a genial gulp at my drink.
'Not really,' Jack sneered. 'We're all at it these days. All of us, you know, decent writers,' he waggled his index finger inclusively. 'Why do you think there's so much shit on the shelves?' he hissed bitterly. 'But I'm getting out—I've had enough.'
Now it was my turn to look stunned. I asked him what he meant.
He seemed to consider this for a moment, lips pressed together in self control, as though he might have already gone too far, then finally the last vestiges of his guard slipped away and he looked ripe for unburdening. From across the table his grim countenance advanced, settling in the glow of the candle, from where, voice attenuated for close range, he began his story.
Jack's role was to identify risk and that was what he'd done. His first effort for Paul concerned an Islamist threat to the nuclear power industry. At first he'd been keen; excited, flattered, even, but as time went by, increasingly plagued by doubts, he'd come to agonise over the consequences of his work.
Risk, he came to realise, meant nothing without risk groups, which ultimately meant individuals. Profiling becomes targeting, becomes observation, and who knows what else? Guilt doesn't even come into it—and where do they end up?—accommodation didn't seem to be a problem. No, he'd decided, abstract speculation was all very well but at the end of the day it always came down to some poor bastard getting it in the neck.
'And that's not why I write,' he stated, 'not to be prostituted like this. The bending of art to war—it's obscene.'
I wasn't sure Jack's output could ever be described as art but I took his point.
'But haven't they always done it?' I reasoned, echoing Paul's invocation of a noble tradition.
Jack gave a disturbing, near-hysterical laugh combined with a look I didn't much care for.
'Yes, but don't you see it's gone too far? Way too far. It's out of control. When they kill the wrong guy—or get caught killing the right one —you can bet the President's apology comes straight from the desk of a household name in the thriller genre. The last Prime Minister's speechwriters were headhunted from a television soap opera. US foreign policy in the Middle East is being directed by one of the guys from "24". Christ, the Russians are still hoping an innovative screenplay will get them out of Chechnya.'
It was absurd and I had to suppress the urge to laugh. I looked for signs of mockery but found none. Who the hell could possibly believe all of this? And yet here I was, still listening.
He'd withdrawn for now to sip at his drink, shadows and candlelight once more joining battle over his features. The distinctions by no means clear, the slightest nuance of an expression likely to rewrite the whole balance of power.
There was something compelling about that face, that changed face, something deeply unsettling about the familiar in the midst of the unfamiliar. I didn't know whether to doubt him or fear him.
The way he spoke, too—quickly and with purpose, like one recalling a nightmare while the horror was still fresh—was deeply disturbing. And then he was back, closer still this time, intermission over.
'All of which makes us extremely hot property but it also puts us on the new front line—up against the Chinese novelists and the best playwrights the Russians have got. You've been approached by the Chinese, I suppose?' When I told him I hadn't, he seemed genuinely surprised. 'Well I have—twice—and believe me, refusal can cause offence. Do you know how many British authors have disappeared in the last 12 months?' he asked, eyes wide.
I didn't know and he clearly wasn't telling, but the question alone was enough to disturb me.
It seemed to be my turn to speak but I wasn't sure what to say. OK, I conceded, he might have a point where his role was concerned but my brief seemed to be more on the technical side of things; innovation, novelty, speculation, projection. I might have added procrastination but I ran out of words. Work on last-ditch fortifications crumbled in my mouth. Even as I spoke, my own ears were reporting back that it sounded like exactly what it was; a pitiful excuse for an excuse.
I knew perfectly well how defence, that convenient nom-de-plume of perpetual war, drives much technological advance and readily co-opts the rest to its agenda. Take the teenage computer gamers recruited by the Americans to perfect their pilotless drones over Afghanistan, which were even now raining down long-range death, directed from consoles inside the US. Now if that's not science fiction, I don't know what is. Whose pen had that come from?
Jack must have sensed or perhaps just assumed my self-admonition because he made no comment.
'You mentioned the Chinese, the Russians,' I tried desperately. 'Couldn't you "go over"?'
He let out a groan and looked at me pityingly, like everything he'd said so far had been a complete waste of breath. 'It's not the Cold War, son: there's no ideology any more, just greed—and that's far more dangerous. They're all as bad as each other, which is why I'm getting out.'
Pulling his briefcase close and glancing towards the door, I could tell he was planning an escape, checking his exits were clear. But he wasn't finished just yet. 'Do you want to be part of the machine? Paul's tame author, read by no-one else? It's censorship—have you thought of it that way?' Then, after a lengthy pause, during which he studied me carefully, 'Why do you write? Really?'
I wasn't expecting so direct a question but I was surprised by how instinctively the answer came, as if just waiting to be spoken, the words queuing up to step forth.
'To make people think,' I said. 'And entertain them.'
'Well, then,' he spread his hands. 'You decide.'
'And what about you?' I asked.
'I'll do what you and I always do with our psychoses and dilemmas—I'll write them away.'
From the briefcase he took his earlier reading material and handed it to me. It was a manuscript.
'Read this. I'm sending a copy to Paul.'
'What is it?'
'A resignation letter. Or a suicide note,' he shrugged. 'Listen, I need to go. I don't like being anywhere too long.' He stood, tying his scarf tightly and placing the fedora on the back of his head before clasping the briefcase protectively to his breast. Then he pinned me with a soul-piercing stare to deliver his parting shot.
'Ask yourself, Martin, how does your story end? Mine ends here.' And with that he wrote himself out.
Perhaps it's testament to such a compelling presence that right then I suddenly felt hopelessly alone and acutely vulnerable. I found myself surveying the room as Jack had, weighing up the other punters, assessing intentions, risks. What were their roles in this?
It couldn't have lasted more than twenty minutes but something about the whole encounter left me so profoundly bewildered, as though torn from stupor, struggling to order my thoughts, no longer sure of what I could safely believe.
His words flickered across my mind like the shadows on his face, distortions of time and space.
The rantings of a sick man? The final confession of a dying man, perhaps?
Or how about Jack the foreign agent diverting me from vital government work?
Or Jack, the plot device delivering the words I needed to hear? A face to an internal dialogue I'd been avoiding for months?
Not that it mattered; he'd spoken the truth. But then you know what they say about that.
Between the whiskey and the evening's topic of discussion, my throat was parched. More than half of the orange juice sat in front of me but for some reason I didn't touch it. I hadn't seen it poured.
Turning to the manuscript—apparently a treatment for a novel—I was abrubtly reminded of the time I killed a prying journalist with dimethyl mercury-impregnated paper. Terrible way to go.
The plot before me concerned a civil servant pushed to breaking point by issues in his work and private lives who found deliverance in the murder of various superiors and diplomats one by one in a series of ironic set-pieces. One, Saul Parfield, has a paperback book shoved down his throat. Subtle.
I watched a fly walk across the table—flies in November?—and wondered just how long it had been there.
Get a grip, Martin, for fuck's sake.
If I could be sure of one thing, and at that moment even one was an achievement, it was that I wouldn't be the next Jack Lonsdale. No, I craved the real world while I could still recognise it. Nobody's part in this was written yet.
Over at the piano, a blonde in a tight red dress loitered gracelessly, threatening to sing. Time to go.
So I left the fly to the orange juice in the hope it might stay exactly where it was.
'Hello, stranger!' said voice on phone, 'Long time, no hear!'
I was sitting at my desk, laptop open at a fresh document. Beside it lay a letter addressed to the familiar PO Box number and next to that a larger envelope addressed to The Silver Literary Agency.
'Too long, Dave, too long,' I lied. 'Listen, remember that novel? Well it might be back on. I think it's time I got serious. Do you think you can you still get me a deal?'
He sighed ecstatically. 'Oh, that is music to my ears, Martin. I'm sure I can arrange something. Seen sense at last, have we? Finally been evicted from the Twilight Zone?'
I smiled but said nothing, content to let him have his little moment.
'Actually, Dave, there is just one more story here—a good one—and definitely the last, I promise. How about it, just for old time's sake? Before I really throw myself into this novel?'
As expected, he ran through his usual range of noises before acquiescing. 'Yeah, OK. I can't really refuse my most lucrative client, can I? I'll see what I can do.' And then, cautiously, 'It's not too far-fetched, is it?'
I couldn't answer that.
'There are two kinds of folks who sit around thinking about how to kill people: psychopaths and mystery writers.' —Richard Castle