|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||409 KB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Anthony Frewin
Oldcastle BooksCopyright © 1998 Anthony Frewin
All rights reserved.
LIKE A WHISPER, A SUSURRUS
145.689MHz is a radio transmission channel reserved for the British security and intelligence services. The channel is continually 'open', broadcasting white 'carrier' noise in which messages are embedded. Other agencies, as remote from the security services as they are from the public, 'hitch' the wavelength for their own use. These hitchers have never been identified.
On Friday, 22 January 1993, at 1640 Zulu the following encrypted transmission was hitched:
'Bellerophon ... 666B.'
'Still active on LANCER grail. Second WAYSIDE passed without incident. Further avenues now open.'
I ARRIVED AT KING'S CROSS station ten minutes before the train was scheduled to leave. I would have driven up but Dennis the Greek down in Camden Town still hadn't put a new clutch in the old Merc even though he'd had it for over two months. Dennis'll do it cheap, but you've got to be patient.
It was a cold Saturday. A penetrating wind. Intermittent rain. A sky full of vast grey and black clouds dramatically changing shape and heaving towards a storm. It reminded me of Prague.
I walked the length of the platform down to the first carriage. It was empty and I got a forward-facing seat on the left side. I took a half bottle of Smirnoff out of my shoulder bag, had a quick glance about to see that I was alone, and had a big hit. The first one of today ... aside from a couple of quick nips at breakfast.
Laura thinks I've got a drink problem, but then she thinks anyone who has more than two glasses of white wine a week has a drink problem. I might have a problem and if I do ... if I were to have one ... as it were, she is not to know that. The thing is I've only got a drink problem if I think I have and if I mention it to someone else.
I picked up a copy of The Independent back in Tufnell Park. I'll have a quick rifle through it and see if I'm missing anything.
Right, what's in this section? A few book reviews of books you'd never read by reviewers you've never heard of, acres of 'life-style' features and columns, and not much else.
The train pulls out as the storm breaks. Thunderous rain crashes athwart the roof and cascades down the windows.
Squinting out I see through the downpour a high retaining wall built of dark blue engineering bricks. There are whitewashed letters some three metres high arcing down to the right:
MARK THATCHER – WE'LL GET YOU!
I light a cigarette.
There's a piece in the paper here about Bosnia. Skip that. Bill Clinton has only been in the White House three days and they're already evaluating his performance (!). John Major is wittering on about some trade deal. This drug dealer says he is totally innocent and was fitted up by the security services because he knew about some corrupt overseas aid deal involving Thatcher's government that he was going to expose (probably true, but who'd believe a drug dealer?), and now there's a big piece about the health service. Should read that. I read and re-read the opening paragraph and though I recognise the words, the separate individual words, I cannot take in the meaning. There are things dancing about the periphery of my mind now, preoccupying me, making me distracted. Well, not things, but a thing, and not a thing – a person. Dick.
A further couple of hits of vodka disperse some of the unfocused anxiety that seems to be dogging me, but Dick remains.
He phones me up and he obviously needs help. I'm pissed out of my mind and just ass about. I don't take him seriously. The next thing I know he is dead. I should have done something ... but what? Could I have done anything? Could I have brought him back from the brink? I'm never going to know, am I? This is one of those big questions that will dangle there for ever. Unanswerable. Absolutely fucking unanswerable.
There's the stark surprise of it all too. I could tell you fifty people I'd think more likely to commit suicide than Dick. Fifty. Perhaps more. But Dick?
The rain is abating. Through the windows, the drenched fag-ends of London's northerly suburbs. Soon it'll be New Barnet station and then after that the interrupted greenery of Hertfordshire. Only twenty minutes or so and I'll be in Hitchin.
I remembered now.
Reginald Hine. The historian who had lived in and written a monumental history of the town. Reginald Hine – he committed suicide at Hitchin station too. Back in the late 1940s. He threw himself under a train and that was that. About the year I was born, 1947, the same year Dick was born. Or was it a year or two later? Hine had been a lawyer in the town all his life. He'd written half a dozen or so books including the monumental History of Hitchin in two volumes. Then, hey presto, he went and did himself in at the station. They had a big funeral for him in the town and even opened a little park in his memory.
But nobody ever talks about the suicide in the town. That's all been blanked out. You never find any reference to it. A no-go area. I could never find out why he did it.
I wonder if there's some connection between Hine and Dick? Dick had all his books and knew them inside out. Dick was working on his Ichonography of the town, treading in the footsteps of Hine, coming into contact with him daily as it were. When Dick was at the end of his tether, did he then decide to emulate Hine's last exit?
As Thomas Nashe might have written, have you to Hitchin station and end it all?
We'll be there in a few minutes. I have a final taster of vodka and pack my stuff back into the bag. Outside there's an enveloping wintry gloom.
I'm coming back to Hitchin at the end of January and I'm here because my best friend committed suicide.
I'm the only person to get off at Hitchin. I stand there motionless as the train pulls out. The station is deserted apart from a couple of young kids huddled together sharing a cigarette on a seat over on the down platform. The sound of the train dies away.
Behind that fence there, more than thirty years ago, you would have found Dick and me trainspotting. We'd be at it all day Saturday and Sunday, evenings whenever we could make it, and certainly throughout the day during the school holidays.
Those were the days of steam trains, about 1959/60. They've gone now ... but memories ... even the aristocratic A4 class 4-6-2 'Pacifics' designed by Sir Nigel Gresley with the sloping fronts and streamlined sides that would hurtle up to Scotland with a rake of fourteen or more passenger carriages ... gone, like Dick himself now.
Those days, I thought, would last for ever, I really did. Adult life was a million light-years away. We'd be having fun for ever. There was an eternity of trainspotting in front of us. There'd always be steam trains, there'd always be that old guy whose name I can't even remember in his dark blue railway uniform and his black shiny peaked cap to show us around the sidings, there'd always be your mum and dad back home. There'd always be those perpetual Sundays with the smell of Sunday dinner and Ted Heath on the radio endlessly playing that jazz standard, Opus One. But now it's all history.
This passage of time makes my heart skip a beat and gives me that existential shiver I used to get when I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the immensity of the universe.
Three decades! God almighty – I never thought it would go so quickly. Never.
The station forecourt is deserted apart from a couple of taxi cabs parked up over by the station master's house. No sign of Laura. She did say it was doubtful that she would get back in time from Cambridge. Just as well, I could do with the walk anyway. It'll only take ten minutes or so. I'll soon warm up.
On the wall up from the booking hall I can just make out the faintest tracery of the HANDS OFF CUBA! slogan Dick and I daubed here in whitewash back in 1962. The letters are about a metre high and slope down to the right. You might not notice it if you didn't know what you were looking for, but I can see it clearly at an angle.
Dick and I painted it in the early hours of a Sunday morning. About 2 a.m. As soon as we'd completed it a police car arrived and we were carted off to the police station. We were charged with defacing railway property and found ourselves in the magistrates' court a week or two later where we were both fined £3, a hefty sum in those days.
One of the arresting officers said in court that Dick had in his pocket War Upon the World, an 'inflammatory anarchist tract' that 'advocated the violent overthrow of society'. This was a bit of irrelevant information tossed into court to make sure the magistrate got the message about us two highly subversive individuals, and he did, as the fine demonstrated.
Dick and I laughed about the alleged anarchist tract afterwards because there was no such thing. What Dick did have in his pocket was a copy of the orange-coloured Penguin paperback edition of H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds. Hardly the same thing.
About a week after that Dick pulled me aside at a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament meeting that was being held in a church hall on the Walsworth Road. He had that smirky bright-eyed look that overcame him whenever he knew something you didn't.
'Christopher, don't you think there was something odd about that copper saying I had an anarchist tract?'
He always said your name at the beginning of a loaded question or statement. Hearing your name let you know that what followed was of some import.
'Well, beyond telling a lie, no.' I really hadn't given it much thought since it happened. The copper had lied and that was that.
What was he playing at? What could be odd about it? Everyone knows coppers tell lies. But odd? Dick wasn't silly enough to think there was something odd about a policeman telling a fib, was he?
'Think what the copper said in court,' Dick continued. 'He said it was an ... inflammatory ... anarchist ... tract. Look at those three words.'
'Yeah?' I said, puzzled.
'Where do you suppose one of our local country-bumpkin coppers gets those three words?'
'I'm still not with you, Dick.'
'Look – did that cop strike you as any sort of intellectual? Do you think he reads the New Statesman or is even a member of the local library?'
'No ... just local ... average.'
'Right. Yet he uses those three words. Now you might allow him to use the word anarchist. He thinks an anarchist is just someone who wants to blow everything up, nothing more. He wouldn't know about utopian anarchism or Kropotkin or different kinds, would he?'
'But inflammatory? He wouldn't use that word. Inflammatory to him is something like a blanket that goes up in flames. And tract? No. It wouldn't be a tract to him. It would be something else to him. Not a tract. He'd call it a booklet or something. Perhaps a leaflet.'
'So what are you saying, Dick? I don't follow.'
'He got those words from somewhere. Somebody put them into his mouth. That's what I'm saying.'
What's he talking about? Did the copper have a drama coach or what? Who put them into his mouth?
I must have continued to look puzzled because Dick started smiling at me and saying nothing, just waiting for the penny to drop. Which it didn't. He realised he'd have to come to the rescue.
'Think about our political connections,' said Dick as he lit up a Consulate menthol cigarette.
'Just this – the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. If you can call that a political connection.'
'They would call it a political connection.'
'They?' Who are they, I wondered?
'What did we do that Saturday a couple of weeks before we got arrested?'
'What, when we went to London?'
I thought back. We caught a train early up to town, went to Dobell's jazz shop on Charing Cross Road, looked in a couple of bookshops, went down to the King's Road and wandered up and down, had a drink and something to eat, and walked down to the anarchist bookshop in Fulham, in Maxwell Road. That was it. The anarchist connection: 'The anarchist bookshop? The little place we went to down in Fulham?'
'Yes,' said Dick, 'we went there, and we'd phoned them up earlier in the week to find out when they were open, didn't we?'
'Yes. But how many people know that?'
'Look, the place is under surveillance and their phone is probably tapped and we were identified going there. Somebody, somewhere is keeping a file on all of this. They made the connection when we got arrested for polit-slogging and they briefed the copper who went into the witness box. They are the people who think of political tracts being inflammatory. They know about anarchists. But they aren't clever enough to realise when their own toes are showing.'
'Couldn't it have been a coincidence?' I wondered.
'There aren't any coincidences in this neck of the woods,' Dick stated flatly.
I thought then as I do now that this was pretty unassailable reasoning. It was just too fantastic for the copper to use the term anarchism, particularly a Hitchin copper in the early 1960s, and bookended by inflammatory and tract.
Back in those days we were aware of mail interceptions and telephone tapping and other things that Special Branch or the intelligence services secretly got up to, but we weren't aware of the extent or the enormity of their activities. These were the innocent days of our youth before the murky Profumo Affair, before the assassination of President Kennedy and the strange death of Lee Harvey Oswald, before Bobby Kennedy's assassination and Martin Luther King's too, before Watergate, before the 'Spycatcher' Peter what's-his-name told us that he and MI5 were careening through London trying to destabilise Harold Wilson's democratically elected government. Back in 1962 not even the most paranoid of us could ever have imagined the half of it.
HANDS OFF CUBA! The white tracings still there on the brickwork. A palimpsest of the past. I reach forward and my fingertips touch the C of CUBA. I can feel the brickwork as my fingertips move from side to side over the pitted surface. It's like I'm touching the past. Reaching out to thirty years ago merely with a flex of an arm.
I can see myself standing there in the dark with a brush and pot daubing the letters in eager strokes. I'm dressed in a pair of cheap blue baggy jeans (these were pre-designer days), a dark roll-neck sweater, and a black shiny rubberised mac. Dick is similarly dressed but with a donkey-jacket. We're fifteen or sixteen and we're what the local police see as the last word in political subversion, an undoubted threat to civilisation (and maidenheads too, I suppose). Big deal. We didn't even have the price of a cup of coffee between us. And neither of us had yet taken a maidenhead.
'Pretty exciting, eh, Christopher?'
'Yeah. We'll cover the whole town in slogans!'
'The whole fucking town! Our slogans everywhere!'
We never quite got around to painting the whole town, but we did succeed in getting a good number of BAN THE BOMBs up hither and thither, including one on the post office and one on a wall right by the police station. We also daubed a few of a slogan that Dick thought up in a puckish moment: HANDS OFF ARMS! The local Labour Party and CND too thought we were taking the piss out of them. We were. Anyway, we'd soon realised that you'd never get anywhere listening to them. Their idea of action was writing a letter to your local Member of Parliament, no less. (Enough letters would eventually usher in utopia. A firm article of faith this.)
In those couple of years after Cuba Dick and I were a two-man anarchist cell. We'd put up stickers and slogans all over the place:
VOTE NOW, PAY LATER!
PROPERTY IS THEFT!
And some were even original, such as the following:
THE RED AND THE BLACK FOR EVER!
SURRENDER TO MAD LOVE!
This last showing the influence of surrealism, the other big -ism we were then into.
Of course, for all the effect these had on the citizens of Hitchin they might just as well have been written in Mayan script. How many people in the town had ever heard of Prince Peter Kropotkin and his idea of mutual aid? About as many as knew that red and black were the anarchist colours. What did we care anyway? The act of doing it was the important thing.
We even travelled up to London and went to a couple of London Federation of Anarchist meetings at the Lamb and Flag pub in Covent Garden. All the anarchists there seemed to be about sixty-five years old, though I dare say they were probably younger than I am now. It wasn't for us. And they were so dull. They knitted their own sweaters (we assumed) and only ever seemed to drink fruit juice. We were the only anarchists we knew who were also boppers, real cool individuals, that is.
Anarchism shone brightly in Hitchin through Dick and me for a couple of years and then it was extinguished as quickly as it had ignited when I started work down at the old MGM film studios in Boreham Wood and Dick began preparing for university. Our street fighting (!) days were over, even if the libertarian mind-set never entirely left either of us.
Excerpted from Sixty-Three Closure by Anthony Frewin. Copyright © 1998 Anthony Frewin. Excerpted by permission of Oldcastle Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsAbout the Author,
PROLOGUE: ARE YOU BEING REAL?,
CHAPTER ONE: LIKE A WHISPER, A SUSURRUS,
CHAPTER TWO: SEE HOW YOU GOT ME SPINNING!,
CHAPTER THREE: SOME BIZARRE, OCCULT SIGNIFICANCE?,
CHAPTER FOUR: AM I PARANOID ENOUGH?,
CHAPTER FIVE: WHO SPEAKS FOR DRAX?,
CHAPTER SIX: I DIDN'T SHOOT NOBODY. NO, SIR,
CHAPTER SEVEN: CONSPIRACY OF HEARTS,
CHAPTER EIGHT: FINDING AND SORTING PEPPER,
CHAPTER NINE: IN AN UNDERGROUND DARKLY,
CHAPTER TEN: STAY IN YOUR OWN MOVIE,
L'ENVOI: A MYSTERY TO US,
APPENDIX: THE CAMBRIDGE CALL,
A NOTE ON THE TYPEFACE,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
What a fantastic novel. I have always been intrigued by all of the apparent anomalies in the official story behind the assassination of President Kennedy (not least because my grandfather died on the same day, though he was nowhere near any grassy knoll!), so was immediately drawn to this book (having also greatly enjoyed his previous book, "London Blues").Anthony Frewin's novel takes the conspiracy theory to a new level, working on the premise that Lee Harvey Oswald was actually in Hitchin (yes, Hitchin) during 1962 at a time when official legend has him living in Soviet Russia as a defector). This all sounds rather fanciful, but Frewin writes in such an engaging and compelling way that while reading the novel this scenarios strikes one as entirely plausible (and certainly more readily credible than the suggestion that Oswald was a lone gunman!).The denouement doesn't disappoint, either, with the various strands being drawn faultlessly together.