Excerpts from My Books
This is an excerpt from “The Keeper of Secrets”:
In the end it was Simon’s passion for the music that betrayed him. Even this anaemic version of the instrument he cherished had come to mean so much to him that he dropped his guard. He was completely absorbed in recalling a passage of Bach and trying to approximate its sound so that his grieving father would recognise it and he didn’t see the faces hiding in the grass, listening. Food was a powerful motivating force, fights regularly broke out over a scrap of sausage or a piece of potato skin, so it was no wonder that he was betrayed to a second Lieutenant for a piece of buttered bread.
When he eventually stopped, cocked his head to one side and listened to the distant noises of the camp, he saw a figure moving out of the corner of his eye. Before he could hide the violin the guard had walked into his eye line. He was tall and well built, with broad shoulders, narrow hips and long legs. His blonde hair was cut very short and he had an angry red scar down one cheek. He wore the insignia of an SS-Untersturmführer, a second Lieutenant in the SS.
“Number!” he barked.
Simon scrambled to his feet, aware that his hat was on the ground beside him.
“8467291, sir” he recited quickly, his eyes averted.
“What is that?”
The man was almost beside him, holding out one large hand. Reluctantly Simon handed over the violin and bow. The guard examined it carefully.
“Where did you get it? You may speak.”
“It was made…a worker in the camp, he was a violin maker, sir.”
“Did you steal it?”
”No! He…made it for me, sir.”
“You were a musician?”
“Pick up your hat. This way, now!”
He grabbed his hat and ran in the direction the guard was pointing. Somewhere inside him iron fingers of terror had gripped his stomach but the thought roaring through his head was, “who will look after Papa when I’m dead?” The guard marched him to a small square building next to the SS officers’ quarters. He took a key from the pocket of his uniform and unlocked the heavy padlock on the latch.
Simon stepped uncertainly inside. It was one single room, lit by a central light bulb and full of brown cardboard boxes. From floor to ceiling on all four sides were stacks of boxes. The guard shut the door behind them.
“Search through these boxes, start over there.”
He began to look in the nearest box to him. Simon was frozen by the fear of the consequence of misunderstanding, he couldn’t make himself move.
“Now, Jew! Are you deaf as well as stupid?” the guard roared.
“Search for…what, sir?”
The man stopped and looked at him, his expression blank. In all the months he’d been there Simon had never questioned an order and he knew other guards who would’ve whipped, beaten or kicked him for such insubordination. In that moment their eyes locked, one pair icy blue and mocking, the other almost black and terrified. The guard wasn’t much older than him and yet he held Simon’s life in his hand. Prisoners were summarily shot for questioning an order.
“That’s a very good point. What’s your name?”
It’d been so long since someone had asked he’d forgotten what the question meant.
Automatically he averted his eyes and held his hat in his hand.
“No, not your number, you name.”
“Err…Simon…Simon Horowitz, sir.”
“And you play the violin?”
“Yes, sir…and, and the piano, sir.”
“What violin did you play?”
Simon hesitated, could he share his precious secret with such a man?
“A Guarneri del Gesu, sir.”
The man whistled softly. Simon knew there was pride on his face, in spite of his situation, and that was dangerous. The guard closed the box and came closer to him.
“My God! What was it like?” he asked with genuine fascination.
“Very hard to play, sir.”
Simon’s voice was steadier.
“I’ll bet. Tell me, I think I read somewhere, about a wolf note?”
“Yes, sir, on the top C on the fourth string. The G was magnificent, sir.”
The guard nodded.
“We’re looking for a violin case. I know there are at least two in here, I just don’t know where.”
Simon acknowledged with a small nod of his head.
“So come on! Get on with it!”
Simon tried to focus his thoughts and breathe deeply through his mouth to slow his frenetic heart. What was this? What did it mean? Was he going to die? Was this man just playing with him? Frantically he dug into the nearest box and saw that it was full of spectacles, so he turned to a second and it was full of shoes. The third contained wrist and pocket watches. Suddenly there was a sharp cry from the other side of the room.
He spun around and saw the guard was holding a black violin case aloft. He watched as the man opened it and lifted out a full sized violin. It had a very dark varnish and was covered in a maze of cracks.
“I afraid it’s been left here in the cold and the heat and it may not be so great”, the guard was running his finger over the instrument, “but it will sound better than that piece of shit you were playing…come, outside!”
He opened the door and Simon hurried out. He watched as the guard padlocked the door closed and glanced around.
He did as he was ordered and didn’t falter until they came to the entrance to the SS barracks. He’d never been close to this part of the camp before and the smell of real food mixed with the sour stench of his own terror.
The guard shoved him in the ribs but with no real force and he stumbled inside. The room was empty. The guard put the case on a rough wooden table, opened it, and held the violin out towards him. Simon took it and turned it over. There were several deep cracks running vertically down the back and across the front. The strings were attached but completely slack. Everything else seemed to be intact, there were no cracks over the sound box, the bass bar was there and the bridge seemed to be strong. He blew gently on the top and a cloud of dust rose through the sound holes. Then he turned his attention to the pegs and the peg holes. The pegs were very stiff but little by little he tightened the strings until they sounded roughly in tune with each other.
Without a tuning fork or a piano it was the best he could hope for. He held out his hand for the bow. The guard watched him intently, genuine respect and fascination on his young face.
“Will it play?” he asked enthusiastically.
“Yes, sir. It’ll take a while to sound good but it will play.”
Simon examined the horsehair and found it was in remarkably good condition. The bow had been re-haired just before it was confiscated. He tightened the screw on the heel and looked up.
“The bow is good…I…I don’t suppose there’s any rosin, sir?”
”Um…just a moment…yes, look!”
He held up a lump of golden rosin and beamed.
“And a cloth to wipe the strings,” he added.
“Thank you, sir.”
Finally they were ready. Simon played a simple scale and adjusted the pegs. Then he played it again and nodded. It was as close as it was going to get. He hesitated and wondered what on earth should he play? What would this man want to hear?
“What are you waiting for?”
“I…I don’t know what you want me to play, sir.”
“Well what can you play?”
“Vivaldi, Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Debussy, Brahms, Mozart…” his voice trailed off uncertainly.
“Do you know any Wagner? Perhaps the Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin?”
Simon gazed back at him steadily, his face betraying none of the revulsion he felt.
“No, sir. I never learned any Wagner.”
“A pity, but never mind. Some…Vivaldi perhaps? Quietly.”
“One of my favourites! Even if he is Italian, sir.”
“Mine too. A little winter to make us feel cooler?”
So Simon began to play, shakily at first and then with more confidence. Soon the sound overtook him, his eyes closed and he moved, rhythmically dipping and rising with the music. There were some wrong notes, fingering he’d forgotten and bowing that was less than perfect, but it was unmistakably Vivaldi. Something deeper, more elemental, seemed to course through his wasted body. A life force he’d all but forgotten that rose up and nourished him. When he’d finished he stood with the violin in one hand and the bow in the other, his eyes downcast, unsure of what to do next. The guard reached out for them.
“You’d better go.”
He laid the violin and bow in the case and walked over to a bench on the side of the room. When he returned he was carrying a large enamel cup that he held out to Simon.
“Here, drink this.”
“Errr…Thank you, sir.”
Simon took it and raised it to his lips. It was beer! The cold liquid, with its sharp distinctive flavour, filled his mouth and he gulped down the whole cup. It was the first taste of something real, something delicious, he’d had in nearly two years.
“Very very good, sir, thank you.”
“Go now,” he pointed towards the door, “and run back to your barracks. It’ll be roll call soon…we will do this again.”
“Thank you, sir.”
He turned and went out the door, his heart still flying from the adrenaline rush of playing the violin. As his ran across the hard parade ground a laugh of pure astonishment and relief bubbled up and spilled out of him. Back in the hut the young guard stood staring at the violin lying in its case. Then he picked it up and put it to his chin, took up the bow and started to play a simple scale.
This is an excerpt from “Stirred Not Shaken”:
It was a bar. Rows of bottled spirits sat on glass shelves above fridges stocked with beers, juices and wines. There were six pump handles in the middle of the long slab of polished wood that formed the bar top. A single figure sat on a stool at the bar. He wore a tuxedo. I stood at the bar and gaped, who was going to reprimand me, we were the only two there. His eyes were blue-grey and ice cold, he had a three inch vertical scar on his right cheek (which told me that he was the literary version, the genuine article) and his black hair fell in a comma over his right eyebrow. His mouth was as brutal and cruel as I knew it would be. A monogrammed gunmetal cigarette case lay on the bar beside a full martini glass. Suddenly he gave a huge sigh and turned towards me, his expression blank.
“The name’s Bond, James Bond.”
The accent was English, not Scottish, or Irish or Australian, but English, as it should be.
“McIntosh, Campbell McIntosh.”
“Black ops, covert, under cover, war on drugs.”
“Welcome to the place where spies, police detectives and PIs come to retire, relive their glory days and wait to be reinvented. Drink?”
“No thanks. Actually I’ve always wanted to talk to you about your drink.”
He raised the martini glass to his lips and took a long sip. I scowled; it really was time someone told him.
“If you shake a martini you’ll bruise all the botanicals in the gin and bruising sharpens the flavour. Not only that, you’ll chip all the ice, which alters the taste and weakens the drink by watering it down. In Moonraker you order a shaken gin-vodka martini with Kina Lillet. Any bartender worth his salt will tell you that shaking a martini is the very worst thing you can do!”
For a second he let my outburst hang in the air between us. My heart was pounding ridiculously fast. What did I think he was going to do to me? Shoot me? Then he spoke.
“I consumed a total of 317 drinks, 101 whiskeys, 35 sakes, 30 champagnes and 19 vodka martinis. That’s an average of one drink every seven pages. How much did you drink?”
“One beer and lots of water, but I worked my way through college as a… mixologist.”
“Ah, a cocktailer…and do you have any phrase in your catalogue anywhere near as famous as “shaken not stirred?”
“That’s not the point-”
“I’d put a bullet through you if you weren’t already dead.”
He was angry and frustrated but something told me it wasn’t entirely my fault.
“All I can see here, Mr Bond, is exceptionally skilled people waiting for someone to use them again.”
He looked at me and sneered.
“Well done to the observant Yank! The world’s going to hell in a hand cart, none of these modern heroes use their brains half as well as they use their brawn and we’re stuck here.”
“But you’re still active! Someone quoted the latest Bond book on page 37-”
He shrugged dismissively.
“Impostors, mimics, they may call themselves Bond but they’re new age men. Some of them don’t even smoke!”
He took another sip of the drink and opened the cigarette case. I smiled.
“Let me show you something, it’ll be a distraction.”
Before he could answer I was round the other side of the bar.
“This is how you make a dry martini.”
I took a glass and filled it with ice and a touch of dry vermouth, swilled it around and tipped it out. Then I refilled the glass with fresh ice and 75ml of gin, stirred it gently, poured it into a martini glass and added a whole, unstuffed green olive.
“If I add another olive it becomes a Franklin, because Franklin Roosevelt liked them with two. Or you can add a twist of lemon.”
He was watching me without comment.
“Add a touch of the olive brine and it becomes a dirty martini, or add a silver-skinned onion and it becomes a Gibson, or use whisky instead of vermouth and it’s a smokey martini-”
“I prefer vodka to gin.”
“And that is technically not a martini at all, it’s a Bradford.”
He gave a derisive chuckle.
“And did you know, newbie, in some bars a vodka martini is called an 007 or a Martini James Bond?”
I ignored the jibe.
“And you can replace the vodka with sake and call it a Saketini.”
His eyes lit up.
“Really? Wouldn’t mind trying one of those. So you know your drinks, but how are you going to fill your days? Creating cocktails for the residents? You’ll be popular, I’ll grant you that.”
“Who exactly are the residents?”
“Sherlock Holmes, Simon Templar, Reg Wexford, Jack Ryan, Tom Barnaby, Adam Dalgiesh, and many less famous. If they’ve appeared in print, they’re here-”
The door behind us swung open and in strode a very familiar figure.