New design and re-edited versions of the novel RED

Buy the e-book or paperback edition on Amazon USA, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Japan, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Australia and India: click on your link on the right hand column. A few snippets and reviews are posted below and on the right as a taster...



I woke up unfiltered, camera still rolling in my head, from a disturbing but probably meaningful dream. It seemed very bright, what was I doing in bed? Clock: 10.34, duvet thrown against the wall, waterfall of piss barneswallising across the toilet then gushing as if poured from an old metal jug. Steaming hot shower, the mirror condensated, my face dissolved into it. The dream started on what appeared to be the moon, or maybe just a distant desert, where I was sitting talking to someone I didn’t know who slowly turned to reveal he had no face. We were chatting for a long time I think; the subject eluded me now, perhaps about perceptions of “oneself” or the high price of imported bottled beers. He suddenly pulled out two silver automatic handguns and blew me away, like in a flamboyant ritual. I looked up, his face now clear; it was mine. I woke up; it wasn’t the first time I’d had this dream.

Fast forward to later. I was slouching in an overcrowded trendy bar in Manchester drinking an overpriced imported bottle of beer. Quite good though: nice balance of rich maltiness and tangy hoppiness. Where the hell is Ben? My watch was usually fast, so my eyes cut to the station-large clock on the wall: 9.50. Day? Date? Of little interest to me but it might help put things in context, so I’ll pluck 1997 out of the air. Better now? My head then scanned and quickly edited the people in the bar: old one-eye to the left sporting a purple patch, a fashion accessory rather than ophthalmic, I’d imagine; two ‘pretty’ boys over there, all androgynous make-up and Adidas T-shirts. The music was Radiohead, morose but moving. He looks nervous – is he out on his own or has he been stood up? Beautiful dark eyes, deep-set into his face causing mystery-laden shadows around them; can’t quite see his soul. Smart short formerly blond hair, subtle earring, drinking South Australian Chardonnay perhaps: certainly a golden colour anyway. Black-ish jeans, bold red shirt, quite trim, in his 20s… or 30s maybe: one of those who appeared younger than they were (or dolled up to be). Enough of him; Ben obviously wasn’t coming. My mind raced, a combination of free-fall thoughts, one too many beers and that strong weed Bob and I had inhaled earlier. I couldn’t stop glaring at red-shirt, not just that I found him alluring but he reminded me of somebody from the past; several people in fact. I dissolved into my glass of previously frothy beer.



I refocused on a rounded glass of red wine, a tantalising Chinon if I remember correctly. Definitely don’t remember the name of the vineyard though.

Paris was the… first stop in my road movie to rediscover myself – well, London was actually but that didn’t really count as I’d really lived there in the past. It was… how many years ago? Ach, doesn’t matter; anyway, not allowed to tell you yet. It was a sombre but dry March day, I think, as I sat outside an outrageously Parisian-looking café sipping red wine and purposefully scoffing olives – heavily marinated in tarragon, rosemary and chilli, juicy yet pruney. I was reading a critical article on David C’berg’s latest film, which concluded it was immoral or some such crap. Probably hadn’t even seen it. Sorry – I’m the one talking crap, mixing up my Paris stories. I was definitely outside a café eating olives, but it was more like July; yes, it was hot, I remember now. I was actually thumbing through Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’, somewhat pompously, as I recall finishing it the following day. Glad that was clear. A… yes, handsome man was parked across from me flicking through a newspaper, in the broadsheet style. Deepest of dark eyes, reminded me of somebody.

I spent about two months in Paris at that time, rightly deemed a magnificent city: my mind picked out and conjured dramatic shots of the ferric-clad Eiffel Tower, exposed arteries of the Centre Pompidou, Arc de Triomphe resting in imperial arrogance, Place de la Concorde in traffic gridlock. Apart from it being the first stage of my journey, I was there for another reason. I wasn’t consciously aware of the real reason I was there, when I arrived in that fair city, but did after I acquainted myself with mystery man displayed opposite outside this catalysing café.

I stayed at the comfortable but not too expensive ‘Hotel Éluard’ located not far from the École Militaire. It vaunted its attractive early 1900s design: windows like dining tables, decorative rusted iron balconies, lots of red flowers, grey slate roof. I managed to relax well there and in Paris generally, avoiding the busy day-to-day routine of normal mortals. I met this guy again three days later – his name was Jean-Luc – who was eating in the same restaurant as me on Avenue de Suffren, both alone. Perhaps he lived around here? He obviously remembered me from the bar the other day, as the waiter approached knowingly:
“The gentleman over there would like to buy you a glass of wine, would you care to join him?” I accepted and moved tables. I’d already ordered asparagus salad with red peppers, goats’ cheese and basil dressing, followed by tuna steak in a rich tomato sauce. He then ordered the soup – seafood bisque perhaps, or it could have been creamed tomato with garlic and herbs. No, that was the soup we both enjoyed the following night at ‘La Folie’. His main was vegetable and white bean cassoulet (only in Paris). He offered me a large glass of excellent dry white Menetou-Salon; old vines, I thought as I tasted, concentrated and crisp. Went well with the salad. He was impressed by my keen interest in wine, I was impressed by his job – a television producer.
“… I’m working on a programme about European film funding, comparing the progressive attitude of the French and Italians to the lukewarm British government and private sector...” He caught himself and joked: “but that’s a boring work script and I sound like a news presenter!”
“No, it’s OK, it’s interesting; I’m a big film fan.” I was also bowled over by his snazzy apartment on Rue Desaix, trendily close to the Eiffel Tower: clean, spacious, virtually empty. He hadn’t got around to buying much furniture apart from the focus of attention displayed in the centre of the dining room – a silver steel table the size of a bridge bulging with bolts and struts with a thick glass top. One kindred-spirit chair stood awkwardly by its side. I’d also ordered red wine earlier but unfortunately knocked it over, staining his designer-label trousers, which he peeled off and chucked into the washing machine. Double clumsy – almost ruined my chances and arguably the best Aussie Shiraz you could find in Paris.


My mind returned to Ben arriving at ‘Malloy’, an Irish bar with a twist. Clock: 10.14.
“I’m really sorry, had a bus-mare.”
C’est pas grave,” I shrugged in the Gallic way. Ben glanced meaningfully over to red-shirt and back to me.
“Anyway, I see you’ve had something to keep yourself occupied with.”
He ordered a Czech beer, I had a Ditburger (bitte).
“Get some crisps as well, but not those disgusting lamb ones,” my voice followed him to the bar.

We talked about nothing in particular – Ben was quite good at that, a refreshing change from the usual arseholes in here. He was another one who’d belong to me, although not just yet; he wasn’t ready at that time. Actually, we were in ‘Charlie’s Bar’ not ‘Malloy’; that was the previous night. We enjoyed a binding mutual relationship: I drew and thrived on his vitality, his energy; he felt he needed my respect, interest in him, company, physical presence. Ben used to get very lonely, very directionless.
“Yeah, I did,” he confirmed he’d seen the programme on Prokofiev last night. “The music was tops,” said in a throw-away, nasal Manc kind of way.
“Stirring,” I agreed. He created a face taking the piss out of my pretension and went on...
“But not as funny as Paul M on ‘Have you got news for me’ afterwards!” Said personality was on a roll on this particular show, I had to admit, even if it was a repeated repeat of an old one. With Prokofiev still reverberating, we decided to go and see ‘Romeo and Juliet’ at the Palace the following week. No doubt fortified by the fact that we’d recently seen, and had our socks utterly knocked off by, the loud, gorgeous and furiously paced Baz L film-version.

I noticed, just like that, my beer was only 5% alcohol – I’d assumed it was stronger for some reason – as I peeled the label off the empty bottle and gave it the last rites. Then I ordered a half-bottle of red, probably Spanish from those Med aromas, and toasted Ben’s health. The deep liquid clung to the glass as I held it up. I drank and savoured. My eyes instinctively wandered across to red-shirt, still alone, looking very bored. I decided to invite him to join us, because he reminded me of somebody I used to know. In truth, no, I didn’t ask him until about two hours later and to come with us to a different bar. The Navarra Reserva was dark and smoky.


‘Club 8 Degrees West’ was dark and smoky. I was staring aimlessly at my drink, a seen-better-days Rioja. I’d ended up here, very trendy apparently, having flowed with friends down Carrer de Santaló.
“Are you alright?” Fernando seemed concerned, but probably only because his girlfriend Mercedes had gone to the toilet and was taking ages. That was unfair, I was fond of Fernando and we became good friends in that glorious year I spent in Barcelona, Spain’s sexiest city (allegedly). I was probably just bored because I hadn’t scored. Yet.
“Yeah I’m grand, just a bit pissed.” I could smell roasted garlic on my breath – it seemed likely to stay with me for several years – derived from the world’s strongest dressing on a Caesar salad consumed earlier in ‘Los Inmortales’; a restaurant like any other on the other side of Muntaner, I believe. It was delicious though. Fernando and Mercedes had lobster – a little extravagant I thought, then again he was paying. The fish I ate with gusto was exquisite: perfectly cooked, very fresh, delicate herbs, lots of lemon juice. I couldn’t remember which particular fish, yet another Spanish word I didn’t know and Fernando had no idea of the English. It didn’t matter, as I preferred to speak Spanish, mostly, which annoyed the locals – took me a while to suss out Catalan (think Portuguese-French cross, what it sounded like at least). Besides, I could live with the mystery fish.

On another note, why was I steaming and disturbed that night? Half-cut I could cope with, not both: I felt tired, drained of energy. Mercedes unexpectedly dragged me onto the dance floor; I hadn’t noticed her subtle return. She was a scream, always determined to have a good time and make sure everyone else did as well. Nice little nothing you’re almost wearing, as Sean once said in an earlier Bond, back when they could just about get away with it. I suddenly felt refreshed to the anthemic crescendos of ‘Encore une fois’ (not again surely). It was tropical-hot and humid-sweaty on the floor, and I felt trapped in slow motion. That young man does keep bumping into me, it’s not just me? Gorgeous dark eyes: looked almost North African, so black magic and alluring. So I flirted a little back, we danced a while longer. His name was Alex; he was actually Portuguese but had lived in Barcelona for a few years. He was a wannabe actor but surprisingly seemed a touch nervous and, reluctantly leaving, said:
“I’m with friends. I should see where they are.”
“Come over later and have a glass of wine with us,” I suggested in my suggestive way. His, erm, situation appeared somewhat unclear, as I soon discovered while going to the loo ten minutes later. Alex was there arguing with somebody, presumably one of his friends – a jealous boyfriend or an over-protective best mate? I wasn’t interested in this little tiff – I sensed he’d already decided to join me.

The following evening was still and breathless yet buzzing and manic with cars and people. Alex and I ducked off the main flow on La Rambla – a solid sea of bobbing heads and loitering heels lined by locals selling birds in cages and touristy shite – heading to a restaurant in the Barri Gòtic. I never remember the name of that restaurant, strangely, as we ate there often enough, but I could vividly recall the menu and wine list. Something like ‘Nación Morena’. The seriously chilled Brut Nature Cava didn’t last long, although the mousse on the wine did. Like atoms, a thin layer of bubbles rested on the surface; a constant stream of tiny glass balls rising to replace the balloons that had burst, disappearing with their nutty bready aroma into the air. I sniffed and approved of the fruity yet slightly earthy smell, watching the bubbles and Alex’s reflection within them.




I fell back out of the bottle of sunshine and went home, confused by the physical nature of my surroundings. I had an even stronger than recently sense of ‘about to’ whirling around my ever spinning mind. Which was probably why I was taken by surprise by the awaiting rozzers; I hadn’t felt their presence due to my distracted state. While trying to snap the handcuffs on binding my wrists (a little extreme, you might think, but had something to do with “resisting arrest”), I heard only selected words emanating from one of the officers.

“... Disappearance of Mark X... Damien Y...” Nice motor though: not the familiar crap family saloon, I was escorted in a Jag, usually used on motorways I thought, unmarked. Detective Nick M something, didn’t catch his name fully, carried on talking to me but I wasn’t listening.

Their mistake was letting themselves think they had it sorted and that I was cooperating. I’d been taught as a kid by a magician how to escape from handcuffs; all down to subtle muscle control, the temporarily painful dislocation of a thumb and a bit of luck. As we got out at the station, poor old Nick was probably surprised to eat pavement. Shocked even not seeing me melt into the night and out of his life. I’d already packed what I needed (not much, I’d concluded) yesterday, or the day before even; I seemed to have predicted some kind of outcome. I was at the airport before they could say the word and was showing my false passport in an extremely relaxed way, my subtle disguise matched the picture well enough.

Manchester evaporated behind us in a puff, as the aircraft contemplated the long flight ahead. I slurped red – Burgundy for sure – and chatted peacefully to my neighbour, reclining as images of past and future were typed through my head as if read from a hefty novel.

“Yes I have,” I answered his question (“have you been to Hong Kong before?”) “... business and pleasure.” I had to pick up… some freight I’d sent there a few weeks ago, before flying on to Australia. I wouldn’t usually encourage fellow passengers to be so talkative on a long distance flight, but this time I didn’t mind. With an inevitable conflict or showdown or whatever waiting for me at some point somewhere, I felt I needed to indulge myself a little in confirming my own existence (I think the passenger’s name was Jean-Paul).



I met this really interesting guy in the pub today; he must be pretty special, as I even dusted down and opened a bottle of the unrivalled ‘87, barely tasted by the precious fortunate few. Into his red though, he appreciated it. He likes art and films too, small world. It’s true I was known as Gordon, but only in this time. I didn’t assume that identity until quite recently actually; it’s a long story…

I was struck by silver lightening in 1649, on the 30th January to be precise, and haven’t been the same since. I remember the date very clearly, as it was the same day we executed the king. Back then, I was called Roxburgh - soon to be Colonel Roxburgh - George: my real name in fact.

The 30s had been frustratingly mad and confusing, Edinburgh was drowning in a thick Scots broth of muttered rumour, sensational gossip and tit-bits of news, when any actually arrived from London. It just seemed unbelievable that Parliament had been dissolved for so long; how could they’ve allowed the king to carry on like that? By 1640, it all came to a head; we, like many others, were totally fed up with Charles Stewart (or Stuart as preferred by the English). The po-faced Presbyterians were behind us – but at a comfortable distance – thanks to his now impossible attempts, as they argued, to turn the religious clock back. But these issues didn’t interest me at all. So, many of my eager colleagues in the Scottish army joined in marching into England to attract attention to our little protest. And, surprisingly, it seemed to work: it was reported a few weeks later that even Cromwell had shown sympathy to the cause.

But this cosy comradeship didn’t last too long; he was growing increasingly weary of Presbies (who could blame him) and their demands to remodel the church from their point of view only. I also decided I couldn’t be associated with this any longer and made my move. Hence why I left Edinburgh for a few years; first stop was London to entwine myself in the real action. There, I offered my services as a respected soldier and certainly no fan of the king, whose contempt for Parliament and any such body had now piled up to a precarious stack of pure treason, as far as we were concerned. By chance, I was soon commissioned as a colonel in the New Model Army and was fizzing with excited apprehension, as the campaign against clustering royal supporters ignited to a blaze.

It was an omnipotent day, sunshine and blood curdled heavily enhancing the supernatural aura hovering over the battlefield. My strongest memory of the war returned to me often: the ‘righteous’ (easy to be judgemental at the time) victory against Charles at Marston Moor on that infinite June day of 1644. Too many men – I don’t now remember numbers of living and dead – locked horns; the din of weapons, shouts, screams and horses was so intense. Yet the power of the battle left me behind, quite distant from my comrades in arms even though I was swimming alongside them in a choppy ocean of bodies, hate and fear. It was a vital day for our parliamentarian forces; in the aftermath, we guessed we’d cut a royalist vein wide open that would bleed dry. And my men certainly knew how to celebrate; the camp was alive with song, beer and wine (but few women apart from the odd local or officers’ wife), even the wounded were intoxicated on victory.

“Where are you from lieutenant, I haven’t seen you before, have I?” I asked the good-looking fading-blond officer, his dark brown eyes glowed orange on and off, as the fire hopped from one foot to the other.
“Essex sir, a small town by the sea,” he informed me whilst tightening the bandage holding his damaged arm, another strapped it to his shoulder. Otherwise, his upper torso was uncovered. “It’s not serious sir,” he added assuming perhaps I was scrutinising his injury.
“Good,” I improvised, “…we need you all fighting fit.” I averted my lecherous gaze and responded suitably colonel-like. “There’ll be more days like today… not too many, I hope.”
“...My parents own an inn...” he continued to tell me about his home and family.
“What’s the name of it?” I interrupted, curious.
“’The King’s Alms’. Honestly!”
“Ironic to say the least.”
“It’s quite busy with travellers passing through, and the locals like the food and ale. That’s what I do normally; I brew the beer.” He noticed my glance at the bottle of red he was drinking from.
“I like wine too!” he laughed.
“So do I.”
We shared and savoured; I found it a little harsh but it fitted the occasion well enough. No comparison with those splendid bottles I was to seize from the Earl of Manchester, his entire cellar in truth. We removed him from power under the terms of the ‘Self-Denying Ordinance’, a pompously titled but simply interpreted law, which I and others often (mis)used. “Unsympathetic to the cause… obstructive,” the words on his arrest warrant ran through my mind. I confiscated his wine and horses.

Thomas, that talkative lieutenant, bolstered the narrative further: “...I joined the army because...” he seemed to pause to think for a moment (motivation was always elusive perhaps; I’d found that too). “Quite frankly, I really do believe the king has just gone too far. He can’t rule without Parliament, although I trust some of them even less. Now we have a real opportunity to make him understand this for good. The opportunity to...” He caught himself again, suddenly wary of his words and my company and realising the red had loosened his lips: obviously that pause had been more deliberate than I thought. But he was quickly reassured he had nothing to fear by my heated approving smile and nod. I would enhance our forces’ strength of by encouraging people like this: intelligent young men with deep-seated morale, guts and committed discipline who believed. Fortunately, Cromwell and others backed me up when the nobles and so-called professional soldiers objected. Thomas served under me at Naseby, where I promoted him to captain, and later in Ireland in 47. There, he stood solidly by my side, as we tried to stop the brutal carnage that had been unleashed. Ideals dissolved on that campaign, actions slipped out of my grasp.




I tasted my first bottle of that timeless Mouton 87 in early 1793: still young, dark and unrevealing. So was Robespierre at the time, although in his mid 30s but wore it well considering the pressures of the job and how hard he was working to keep the momentum going. We were soon to fall out, terminally, after he set up the ‘revolutionary dictatorship’ (as historians later came to describe it; I called it a pain in the arse of the nation) in the autumn of that robust year. I’d liberated ten cases as payment from the Marquis Léoville de Beaufort and forgave him his crimes against the people. I’d also got involved in confiscating and redistributing vineyards in Burgundy, by the way. I made sure a long-standing colleague of mine, Edouard Cassenous, received a few holdings in a village close to Beaune to divide among his substantial family, as a reward for his services to the Revolution. In fact, one small domaine there is still in his descendant’s hands, who’s changed the wine’s style a little; but it’s, nevertheless, one of the best Pinot Noirs I’ve ever quaffed. And believe me, I’ve polished off some great reds over the years.

I’ve still got three bottles of the towering 1787 – no, two actually – of course, I opened a second one the day after I met that mysterious naive young man two hundred years on from the very first apprehensive bottle. Those sips of lush old red the night before, so heady and strangely intoxicating, put him in my grasp; the next fused him to me forever. I’m afraid I didn’t give Robespierre the pleasure of a further sampling; I ensured his life-blood was removed by another’s hand, not offered for eternity. A disappointment, malheureusement. But also with deepest regret. Anyway, this story drifted through my consciousness over two centuries ago; so let’s return to that particularly poignant point.

I don’t remember exactly when I assumed French nationality but I was known as Jean-Baptiste Lefèvre. Certainly thirty or forty years before this; I think it was the name of an old acquaintance of Voltaire, who disappeared in suspicious circumstances without trace. Or was it one of his characters? It’d been a trying year, to say the least. Paris was intense, very intense; the air was as concentrated as the Mouton, the streets were redder still.





From time to time - okay, most of the time actually - Thomas and I used to ‘large it up’ with the high-life set in the west end, fleetingly oblivious to the financial traumas engulfing the City and country. By mid 1923, the government was printing so much money it would’ve put any honest fiscal forger out of business. It all spiralled out of control after they’d started to devalue the Mark about a year before, and panic gripped everybody’s wallets, savings and just about anything really. But we ‘survived’. I’d allowed myself to be drawn into Thomas’ gang’s shifty underworld – only enough to keep my head above the garbage pile, mind you – and, by the end of the year, this crisis was temporarily over as transparent stability was restored. Within a couple of years, I’d joined the lucky loaded few after borrowing some money (as everybody appeared to be doing in Berlin) and made a killing on Wall Street through some wildly improbable speculating.

Move on about 12 months to sometime in 1926. Thomas, with full-moon excitable child eyes, was gawking up at the cinema and muttered the headlining film title again.
“Faust. F-a-u-s-t; who’s the director again?”
“Murnau,” Vladimir thankfully obliged, as I’d already told him twice in ‘Café Leon’ where we’d partaken in a movie-aperitif earlier.
“Amazing theatre, looks like a cathedral,” Thomas continued as we approached the front doors of the grandiose UFA Palast am Zoo.
“You mean you’ve not been past here since it opened?” I asked.
“No. I mean, I probably have but wasn’t paying any attention. I haven’t been to the cinema much, don’t know why.”
“Well, we’re honoured to be in the company of a film star tonight, eh Vladimir?” I joked, laying it on.
“Hardly,” he paused to chuckle then cough. “Not exactly stardom, some walk-on extra in a second rate movie.”
“When?” Thomas jealously probed.
“Last year, at UFA’s studios just out of town. When you need the money…”

We slowly waltzed down the aisle to soak up some of the plush splendour before taking our seats not far from the orchestra. With beating hearts, stimulated by anticipation of the event and a couple of strong cocktails in the bar, the curtain rose simultaneously with the full-scale orchestra warming up the score with slow low notes, and the pictures rolled.




Gordon was sitting, without motive and unarmed, in ‘the Final Drop’ enjoying a quenching bevvie, when a noticeable stranger walked into his universe. He watched him closely for a few moments; he did rather resemble Thomas in many ways. The object of attention became aware his presence was being recorded, so the observer transmitted one of his irresistible smiles. About half an hour later, he went back to the bar to get another half; Gordon followed.

“I’ll get that,” he said forthrightly, “I’m Gordon, by the way.”
“Thanks, nice to meet you; Eliot,” offering his hand and added, “I always accept drinks from strangers!” They sat in the corner and swapped introductory stories; some time elapsed.
“... I work at the Gallery of Modern Art, started there recently actually, in marketing…” Eliot explained.
“Sounds interesting; I’m quite into modern art,” Gordon said, keen to impress.
“Pop in some time, just ask for me.”
“I might.”
“What do you do?”
“I’m in the wine business, a merchant down in Leith.”
“Nice one – I’m a big red fan.” His eyes lit up, shining and naive. He continued: “lived in Edinburgh long?”
“No, not very,” Gordon lied, face surprisingly straight; then again, he must’ve got pretty good at telling lies by now. “I moved here a few months ago from St. Andrews,” he plumped up the fabrication then added a 100% spoonful of truth; “I’m staying in a flat in the New Town, off Dundas Street.”
“I was at uni here, decided to stay. I love Edinburgh,” Eliot elaborated affectionately. “I’m sharing a flat in Bruntsfield.”

Gordon found Eliot very easy to talk to and was probably a little too forward that night, what he told him about himself. But enough to get him curious, hooked even. The two companionable men moved on to Campbell’s and on to the red; good choice, Gordon thought.
“Do you fancy going to a club later?” he asked.
“Club, err, where?”
“‘The Red Bar’, off Broughton Street,” without sounding too familiar with Edinburgh’s geography.
“Oh right. Heard of it, never been there though. Don’t know why not.”
“Too intense an atmosphere perhaps!”
“Ha! Yeah, let’s go for it.”

They did. Then back to Gordon’s place, having opted for the nearest, much later. Then the 1787, the old smoothie. Eliot had crossed the threshold into another dimension, he didn’t regret it, and signed on the dotted in purest red. Gordon was ecstatic about having a new soul mate and relished telling Eliot about many of his previous adventures; he always appeared to be interested. He was particularly jealous when Gordon mentioned the artists he’d known; one night, as he revealed his collection of red wines, that cellar of souls so to speak…
“… You met David?” Eliot strained out.
“Yes, he was a friend of Marat and president of the Jacobins; well, for a few weeks at least.”
“Our party, the revolutionary party. Do you like his stuff?”
“Yeah, some of it… in a certain way.”
“Well, you know, it’s a bit dramatic and posed; stylised propaganda.”
“On the right side though, our side,” Gordon countered, all high and mighty.
“Caught the mood of the times, no doubt?”
“Aye. I remember when Jacques-Louis was arrested after Robespierre, in Thermidor… I mean August, erm, 1794, and held prisoner in a studio. It belonged to one of his pupils, an… acquaintance of mine…” He laughed at the way he’d unconsciously stressed the word but didn’t divulge his thoughts on this mystery person. “… Anyway, I took him some painting materials, to apologise for going against Robespierre and explain why. He seemed to understand.”
“How long was he locked up for?”
“To the end of the year. He was eventually pardoned the following October, I think.”
“What was he like?” Eliot, excited to know more.
“A big bloke actually, quite fit and active. Hell of a fencer too. He had lovely bright eyes.” Gordon paused for a second or four as he briefly jumped time barriers. “He painted a remarkable self-portrait after he was imprisoned in this studio; most unlike any of his ‘grand classical myth’ stuff,” gesturing suitably flamboyantly, “very simple and honest. Shows the essence of the man, still shaken by Marat’s death, as I was.”
“Yeah, I know which one you mean. It’s in the Louvre, I think. Lots of browns, quite romantic in fact.”

Eliot joined Gordon in relishing the moment; the hazy French red rendered the night as fluid as those memories and quietly closed it down.


A few weeks have elapsed... Gordon goes...


A few weeks have elapsed. Gordon goes into ‘Café Solo’ on Oxford Street for late lunch, coffee and thinking. It might’ve been pure luck that he chose this place at this time, or perhaps fate whispered in his ear. Either way, it seems so unlikely Gordon just goes with it. As his seafood soup is delivered with panache, he hears two people talking at the table next to him. Did he say Eliot? Gordon’s mind tunes in to a stronger signal and he eavesdrops further.

“Yeah, he’s really nice. Refreshing change from this lot.”
“And cute no doubt?”
“Certainly is but in a different way; not your average fake-pretty type at all.”
“And Eliot, what kind of a name is that?”
“Dunno. Not sure where he’s from – could be English, Irish or Scottish! He’s been around.”
“I bet.”
“I mean well travelled.”

“Excuse me, but did you say Eliot? Sorry for being nosy, but it’s important,” Gordon butts in. Tim and his friend give him a half-dirty, half-curious look. “My name’s Gordon, I’m looking for an old pal called Eliot. I think he might be in Sydney.” Gordon introduces himself and joins them at their request. The efficient waiter moves his soup with much fuss.

“I’m Tim, this is Veronica,” Tim points first to himself then his lady friend, as if there might be any confusion.
“... So he just arrived a few weeks ago, from Manchester...” Gordon reconfirms the facts he receives, the words he wants to hear.
“Have you known him long?” Veronica asks.
“Several years but we lost touch. A friend of his in Manchester contacted me, and I decided to try and track him down,” Gordon answers without adding any revealing details.
“Why? I mean, coming all the way here, sounds a bit serious?”
“Not really. But it’s quite important I find him quickly... personal reasons… too complicated to explain.” Gordon doesn’t transmit any further information and closes their minds, so they lose the thread of the conversation, then continues. “You don’t happen to know where he is today, do you?”
“No,” Tim responds vaguely, “but we’re meeting him later tonight. He’s got a dinner date somewhere first,” he adds, perceptibly jealous of Gordon’s potential presence in his new arrangement.
“Dinner, who with?”
“Don’t know. Why don’t you join us later and surprise him.” Tone a little less bitchy.
“Best if I find him right away,” Gordon realises he sounds rather dramatic and tries to lighten his questions, “it could be important, as I said.” Tim and Veronica become slightly suspicious but still believe Gordon is a genuine acquaintance; he seems to know Eliot very well.
“John might know.” Veronica.
“John? Where can I find him?”
“He’s probably at home finishing his novel. Deadline’s way past!” Tim. Gordon remains silent waiting for more information as his expression demands.
“He’s a writer (you don’t say, thinks Gordon, most novelists are), he met Eliot before we did. Lives quite near here.”

Gordon demolished the soup – shame as it was tasty – and is now buzzing John’s apartment. No answer. Buzzes again, and again.
“Shit,” out loud, then decides to hang around. Nobody shows up, Gordon goes for a walk around to kill some time. Four hours later, a reply.
“Is that John?”
“I’m a mate of Eliot’s from Britain; Gordon.”
“Oh... right,” John hesitates, surprised of course: “erm, come up. Second floor.” Gordon pushes the door as it’s released and bounds up the stairs to 22. He finds John warm and charming, he explains the situation, to an extent; John seems laid-back.
“Yeah, he said he was meeting some people for dinner. Actually, he gave me the card with the restaurant’s name and address. It’s around here somewhere. Hang on a minute.” Gordon tries to look patient, as John hunts around calmly, but feels time is dripping away. Unfortunately, John’s flat is a real mess: paper, newspapers, empty and unopened cigarette packets and used cups form a layer or two everywhere. He’ll never find it amongst all that, Gordon thinks.
“Ah, here we are,” he suddenly contradicts those stray mental words, “le Grand Oeuf,” he reads off the card. “Quite good apparently. If you want to catch him though, you’re best taking a cab.” Gordon grabs it, thanks John and mutters something about seeing him later. John looks slightly taken aback but certainly not bewildered.


World Copyright © 2002 - 2021 Richard Mark James


Thanks to Faber & Faber Ltd. (UK and Commonwealth) and Grove/Atlantic Inc. (North America) for permission to quote lines from ‘Krapp’s Last Tape’ by Samuel Beckett. And thanks to Ralph for letting me pinch one of his poems!

First published 2002 in paperback (now out of print) by GMP/Millivres Group London: original cover image courtesy of them. Extracts above taken from the new e-book edition published 2012 by Richard Mark James. World Copyright © 2002 - 2021 Richard Mark James, who has asserted his right to be identified as the author of this work in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.