Listen up, reader, you're dead meat now

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The Independent Online
Serving members of the SAS (Special Armed Services) are now to be asked to solemnly promise that they will not, after they have gone back to civvy street, write novels based on their life in the SAS, which must explain the non-stop barrage of phone calls I have had over the weekend from desperate SAS members.

"Have you heard the news, Mr Kington?" they bleat. "We are no longer allowed to write novels about the SAS!"

"Why should that worry you?" I rejoin. "Surely you joined the SAS merely to slide silently down ropes from helicopters and garrotte sentries?"

"Not at all!" they all say. "We joined the SAS to get material for our art. Some of us are novelists, others are poets and water-colourists! But we all have one thing in common - to turn base experience into the precious metal of art!"

"What has that got to do with me?"

"We want you to ghost-write our novels about the SAS, Mr Kington..."

At which point I put the phone down. Not that I am not sympathetic - it's just that I am busy right now on my own novel, which is set in the savage world of modern newspapers and I am afraid that if I don't get a move on with my book, The Independent will ask me to sign a clause swearing I will never base a novel on life in Fleet Street, and then a masterpiece of sex, violence and misprints will be lost for ever.

But judge for yourself. Here is a short extract from my Fleet Street thriller, Blood In the Gutter.

I opened the editor's door.

"You wanted to see me?" I growled.

The editor paid no attention. He was talking on the phone to someone.

"All right, your Royal Highness," he was saying. "It's a deal. We'll publicise your views on the new extension to the British Museum if you give us the whole dirt on..."

I retreated. I closed the door gently. This was no business of mine. My business was to see the editor on my own business. My own business was to answer a message I had found on my desk. "The editor wants to see you."

Have you ever worked on a paper? Then you'll know that all editors are the same. They say they want to see you, you go and see them, and suddenly they're on the phone to some long-winded princeling. It's hard to attract their attention then, unless you do something special.

I did something special.

I retreated 10 yards down the corridor, took a run at his door and then, just before I reached it, I took off in the air and hit it with the full impact of my heavy boots, straightening my knees at the same time so that the whole door splintered and gave way before my onslaught. It was a trick I had learnt in the provinces, from old Bellwether on the Darlington Evening Telegraph.

As the door fell inwards on his floor and I entered the inner sanctum, rolling over and standing up, the editor looked up and put his hand over the receiver.

"No sandwiches today, thanks," he said. "I'm having lunch with Michael Portillo."

Then he recognised me.

"Ah, Kington," he said. "Did I send for you?"

"I wouldn't dream of entering your presence if you hadn't."

He looked at me hard, trying to work out if I was showing respect or contempt. He gave up.

"The fact is, Kington, we've had a letter of complaint from a reader in Bath who accuses you of getting your facts completely wrong."

"Impossible," I said. "I don't deal in facts. I make everything up. That way, I can't get anything wrong."

"Nevertheless," said the editor, "this reader makes some very powerful points. I think you ought to take some action."

"You mean," I said, "pop down to Bath and rub them out? Eliminate them? Liquidate them?"

The editor sighed.

"Kington, I sometimes wonder if you wouldn't be more suited to counter- insurgency operations than the world of newspapers. Has nobody ever told you that every time you rub out a reader, you lose circulation?"

Before I could answer, a curious thing happened. The windows burst in under a fusillade of bullets. I threw myself to the floor and the editor fell dead. I found myself inches from the phone. I picked it up. "Hello?" said a voice. "What on earth is going on?"

"Were you speaking to the editor just now, Your Maj?" I said.

"Well, yes, I..."

"The conversation is over," I said. "He's dead. He's been cut off in his prime. He has been removed from this life. Your deal is off."

"But that's terrible! Who on earth would want to kill the editor?"

"Believe me, baby," I said, "on a national newspaper, who wouldn't want to kill the editor?"

Want to know what happened next? It's all in my forthcoming novel, 'Blood in the Gutter'!

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