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Charlie Muffin, who without conceit considered himself a master of survival, came carefully awake and wondered if he were going to survive this one. With his eyes determinedly closed and with the wiseness of an expert in such things refusing to shift his head, one way or the other, it was still awful: bloody awful. The pie, he decided. Bloody stupid to have eaten that plastic-wrapped meat pie out of that pub microwave just before the final drink. Had to be the pie. Nothing else it could be. Islay single malt didn't make anyone feel like this. Not him, anyway. Sodding pie. Probably hanging around for days in that display counter with shit-footed flies route marching all over it, left right, left right, let's give the silly bugger who buys this the worst hangover of his life. Not a hangover, though. Didn't suffer from hangovers. This was food poisoning; headaching, sweat-making, stomach churning food poisoning. Sodding pub with the sodding pie deserved to be reported to the health authorities. Public menace, to old and young. Christ, he felt awful!
Charlie carefully opened his eyes, wincing protectively. The stab of pain impaled him against the pillow: been worse if the curtains hadn't been pulled against the half-light of seven thirty. It was difficult to imagine anything worse, at that precise moment. There was something approaching it: he was dying for a pee. Couldn't blame that on the pie: at that moment he could have found good use for the dish, though. Probably how it had been used before he'd eaten out of it, the previous night. Experimentally Charlie moved his head from side to side, the slowest denial in the world. More arrows thudded painfully into his skull. More than likely it hadn't really been Islay malt! The doubt hardened in Charlie's pain-racked mind, developing conviction. A right little salmonella factory, in the basement of that pub: Sweeney Todd's pie shop on one side and bathtub whisky on the other, brewing rotgut to be sold to unsuspecting and innocent blokes like himself.
Charlie moved with the slowness of someone testing broken limbs, easing his feet and then his legs over the bed-edge and elbowing himself up into some resemblance of sitting, hunched forward over his knees. He blinked, testing the pain of the light, and saw that he was still wearing a sock on his left foot; blue, with a triangular pattern. And a hole not on the big toe where it normally formed but in the middle. Charlie, who suffered from his feet and therefore devoted much attention to them, decided that his left foot wouldn't have been cold if his right one hadn't: must have forgotten to take it off then. Funny place for a hole to be. Couldn't blame that on the pie, either. He moved his feet, rippling his toes; one of the few parts of his body that didn't hurt at the moment. They would, soon enough. Except that he wasn't using his feet much. Which was the problem, Charlie recognized. He was streetwise – the snide majority in the department thought gutter-wise more accurate – but wasn't being allowed out in the street. Bloody clerk, instead. So there'd been a defection, and when a defection occurred it was necessary to review for damage assessment everything in which the traitorous bastard had ever been involved. But Charlie didn't go for all that crap about his being the most experienced man in the department, better able than most to spot the difficulties that a younger man might have missed. He was being pigeon-holed, he decided: stuck in a fucking filing cabinet along with all those dust-smelling documents made out in triplicate and forgotten about. The snide majority found that easy to rationalize: considered it sensible even. Who better to know how a traitor operates than someone who'd been one? Except that he hadn't been, ever: just sacrificed the sacrificers. A lot of people still distrusted him for it, though. So what? They could all go to hell. Charlie stood, groaning: at the moment he knew what hell was like.
He made the bathroom, dealt with his most urgent need and then supported himself against the sink, grimacing at his image in the mirror. Little short of a medical miracle to look like he did and still be alive. He proceeded slowly, even when cleaning his teeth, knowing from long experience that any abrupt movement was dangerous. The hand- shake was such that he still knicked himself, shaving. He dabbed several times trying to stop the bleeding and finally stuck a piece of toilet paper over the cut. The bathwater ran cold and he realized the meter needed feeding and when he looked he didn't have the right coin. It didn't look like being a very good day.
Charlie returned to the bedroom, gathering his clothes. The shirt had been fresh yesterday, so it would do once more, and his other suit – the good one – was at the cleaners, so there was no problem of choice: have to get some leather put on the cuffs of this one, before the fray got too much worse. Last a bit longer though. He was sure he had a blue tie but couldn't find it and reckoned the red one, with the blue stripe, was the next best thing. The shirt collar stuck up like a flag of surrender. When he pushed it down, it came up again, so he gave up. He stared around, looking for the missing sock, bending with difficulty beneath the bed and the two chairs without finding it. His vague search became a flare of immediate concern and he moved so quickly it hurt, jerking his head beneath the bed again and then gazing hurriedly around the room, sighing with relief when he located the Hush Puppies, one on top the other, just inside the door. Charlie regarded them with the devoted affection of someone who had succeeded in teaching a much-loved pet to roll over and die for its country. Charlie knew there were a lot of snipers within the department who believed his shoes had died, years ago, but they didn't understand, like they didn't understand a lot of things. It took a long time to mould shoes to the peculiarity of Charlie's feet, and once it had been achieved they were lovingly retained, against the agony of replacement. He found another pair of socks which didn't really go with the suit but he didn't care, finished dressing and then went uncertainly to the kitchen. There was acid in orange juice and Charlie didn't think his stomach could take it: certainly no breakfast. He drank two glasses of water with the eagerness of a Sahara survivor, looked at the contents of the sink and resolved as firmly as he had the previous day to wash-up as soon as he got home. Definitely do it this time.
The bus was crowded and he had to stand, every bump and hole in the road jarring through his head. He realized he wouldn't make it when the bus reached the Embankment. He got off heaving, supporting himself tight-lipped and sweating against the river wall until the sickness passed. Sodding pie.
He felt slightly better for the short walk through St James's Park, actually able to nod a greeting to the outside doorman and then the security officer who checked his documentation, according to the regulations, when he entered the building.
'Nice day,' greeted the security officer.
'Needs to improve,' said Charlie, with feeling.
Charlie's office – which from earlier experience he thought of as a cell – was at the back of the building, a functional rectangular room overlooking an anonymous rectangular courtyard despised even by scavenging Whitehall pigeons who normally didn't despise anything. Charlie didn't know the identity of anyone whose regulation net-curtained window faced his regulation net-curtained window and was confident none of them knew about him, either. The room was equipped with the required, Civil Service-graded equipment: two five-drawer filing cabinets (central bar locking; colour green), rubberized-topped metal-based desk (colour green), rib-backed, adjustable chair (colour black), Anglepoise desk lamp (60 watt bulb), waste-paper basket (metal), coat-rack (five-armed), and carpet square (synthetic material, 4' x 4') over a composite cork floor. If he were ever promoted, which Charlie doubted, the colour scheme would be beige and the carpet square would increase to 5' x 5'. It would still be synthetic, though.
Apart from the curtained window, some natural light penetrated the room through the partition directly opposite his desk which was fluted glass and provided a distorted image of the neighbouring occupant, Hubert Witherspoon. The man, whose name Charlie thought more fitting to a Noel Coward farce, was a university entrant who regarded Charlie as university entrants invariably seemed to do, as something unusual to be examined under a laboratory microscope. As Charlie slumped, relieved, into his chair, he was aware of the indistinct shape of the other man moving, to register his arrival. There was the appearance of writing and Charlie wondered if Witherspoon were keeping some sort of log upon him: there were provisions in the regulations for one member of the department to monitor the activities and work ability of another, and Witherspoon was as regulation as the colour-coded offices and the measurements of the carpet square. Sick though he still felt, Charlie flickered his fingers, in an obvious wave of greeting. Witherspoon didn't respond, but then he never did.
Sighing in discomfited awareness of the forthcoming concentration necessary, Charlie opened his desk drawer and took out the three files upon the defection he was analysing, gazing down at the unopened folders. Jeremy Knott, the third secretary at the Bonn embassy who two months earlier had done a hop, skip and a jump over the Berlin Wall, was, Charlie decided, a right pain in the bum. Picked out as a Foreign Office rising star, the bloody man had served in Brussels and Rome, been accorded access to far too much NATO tactical material, and from all the evidence Charlie had so far assembled leaked to his KGB-trained East German mistress enough secrets to give the other Alliance partners the shits for a month, if they found out. They wouldn't, of course. What London would be prepared to admit was enough to sour relations for a long time. Charlie opened the last file, recording the man's initial entrance into the diplomatic service and the academic and entry examinations record upon which the prospects for a glittering career had been based, and tried to ignore the on-off band of pain tightening around his head. He read steadily, looking up in sudden recognition and, turning away to the rack of reference books behind him, taking out Who's Who and the Diplomatic List. It didn't take very long and Charlie sat back, smiling. It was only a hunch but Charlie was a man of hunches, a supreme professional who trusted an instinct honed from years of survival. It was certainly worth an investigation: and that would mean a report would have to be written with explanatory notes and that he could spend the rest of the day working on it, take a long lunch hour and go home early. Maybe it wasn't turning out to be such a bad day, after all. Even the headache seemed to be easing. Hair of the dog at lunchtime, give the meat pies a miss, and by tonight he'd be back in as good a shape as he'd ever be.
Charlie went back to the files he had discarded as read and assimilated, looking for the connection he wanted, but was vaguely aware of Witherspoon moving in the other office although he didn't realize the man was coming into his section until the door actually opened. Witherspoon stayed in the doorway, flax-haired, stripe-suited, school-tied and faintly disapproving, looking down at Charlie.
'I took some messages for you, before you arrived.'
'Thanks,' said Charlie, ignoring the clearly implied criticism of his lateness.
'Accounts telephoned that you're four weeks behind with your expenses and that you're £400 overdrawn: they won't accept any more withdrawals, not even if they're countersigned by the Director himself ...'
Witherspoon was enjoying himself, Charlie realized; the man actually looked like something out of a Noel Coward production. He said: 'That all?'
'No,' said the other man, confirming Charlie's impression. 'The Director called himself, asking for you. I had to say you weren't in.'
'Always essential to tell the truth,' agreed Charlie.
'Said he wanted to see you, when you finally got here.'
'So why'd you wait half an hour, before telling me?' The bastard, thought Charlie.
'Didn't see you arrive, not right away,' said Witherspoon, easily. He came further into the tiny office, staring intently at Charlie. 'You've got a piece of toilet-paper stuck on your face!' he said.
'Disguise,' said Charlie.
'I'm trying to become shit of the week,' said Charlie. 'Thought maybe there was a competition.'
Witherspoon's own face tightened. He said: 'There's something else. Security want you ...' He looked pointedly at the disordered files on Charlie's desk. 'Last night's patrol discovered restricted material in an unlocked drawer in your desk. They're red designation. Should have been returned to Records.'
'Bet you can quote the regulation?' challenged Charlie.
'I can,' said Witherspoon, a man devoid of humour. 'It's 120/B'.
'I'll try to remember that,' promised Charlie.
'It's probably what the Director wants to see you about,' said Witherspoon.
Charlie doubted it. General Sir Alistair Wilson was a professional interested in results, not books of rules. He said: 'Looks like I might be in trouble.'
'Which is entirely your own fault,' lectured Witherspoon. 'You know about expenses. Just like you know red designation files.'
'I'm a fool to myself,' said Charlie, weighing the cliche.
'It's not a joke!'
Charlie remembered the previous day's shirt and wished he'd had some advance warning of the Director's summons. It had to be seven months since he'd last met the man. He said: 'Nothing is funny this morning.'
Charlie used the internal, secure line and was told by General Sir Alistair Wilson's personal secretary to come up immediately, which meant it was priority and that he had probably been waiting. Charlie ascended the two floors burning with anger at Witherspoon purposely delaying the message: sneaky little bastard. When he reached the outer office the woman said: 'You're to go straight in,' confirming Charlie's apprehension.
The Director was predictably up from his desk, propped against the radiator: the artificial leg fitted badly after the battlefield operation and it pained him to sit too long. He was a bonily thin man, with a large, hawkish nose, and when Charlie saw Wilson's concertina- creased, elbow-patched suit he felt more comfortable about his own shirt and tie. Wilson's appearance was in complete contrast to Peter Harkness. The deputy director was a small- featured, pink-faced man whose suits were always impeccably pressed, whose shirts were always hard-collared and whose hand-tooled brogues were always mirror-sheen polished. Before entering the service Harkness had trained as an accountant; if he'd had £5, Charlie would have bet Harkness was behind the expenses embargo.
'Sorry I'm late,' apologized Charlie, at once.
'Some enquiry concerning the defector?' asked the Director, giving Charlie the immediate escape.
'Yes,' said Charlie, gratefully. Sir Alistair Wilson was a good bloke, one of the few.
Harkness was sitting neatly in front of his superior's desk, knees and feet properly together, saucer in one hand, teacup in the other. Charlie wondered if the man starched his underpants like he did his shirt collars: at least they stayed down. Harkness frowned up and said: 'Are you all right? You don't look well.'
'Ate something that didn't agree with me,' said Charlie. He looked between the two men, going beyond the immediate impression of complete contrast. They were, he decided, a good combination. Wilson was a former Ghurka commander who specialized in jungle warfare and provided the entreprenurial brilliance and Harkness kept the books and made sure they balanced.
'How's that enquiry going?' asked Wilson, easing himself into a more comfortable position in front of the window.
'Not too badly,' said Charlie, immediately cautious. He'd been around too long to say it was practically over and get shifted prematurely from one rotten job to another rotten job.
'Could someone else take it over?'
Shit, thought Charlie. He said, still cautious: 'Take a long change-over briefing. But it might just be possible.' There was always the possibility, of course, that the job might be better and not worse: but that wasn't the way his luck usually ran.
'So it can be swapped?' insisted Harkness, determined on a positive manner.
'Yes,' said Charlie, reluctantly.
The Director moved with stiff-legged awkwardness to the desk. Rose growing was the man's hobby and at one corner was a vase of Pascali. He looked briefly down at some papers laid out in readiness and then smiled up at Charlie. 'It's good, Charlie; could be one of the best. But it won't be easy.'
That was the trouble, thought Charlie: they never were. He said: 'Another defector damage assessment?'
Wilson smiled, discerning the reason for the question. 'It's a defection,' he said. 'But definitely not another office job. Asia.'
Excerpted from See Charlie Run by Brian Freemantle. Copyright © 1987 Brian Freemantle. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted May 21, 2014
The book ends before anything happens. He is sent to Japan to bring home the wife of a Russian spy; the CIA tasked with bringing the husband to the USA. Charlie arrives in Japan, meets the CIA team who hates him and the book ends. There is no continuation. Did he meet with the spy? Did he bring the spy's wife to Great Britain? Surly either the author or publisher goofed. This is not worth purchasing.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.