Not a nice task, but Salman's gotta do it

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Newspaper reports the other day said the Iranian government had announced a competition for the best short story about Salman Rushdie. I would not make this up. The government wants people to write short stories about what hell Rushdie's life must be. They are offering, as a prize for the best story, 10 gold pieces and a plaque of honour. My immediate feelings on reading this disgraceful story were twofold. On the one hand, I was disgusted by the sheer malice. On the other, I thought 10 gold pieces wouldn't half come in useful and that I should go in for the contest while there was time. So here is a new short story provisionally entitled "If you ever get fed up with The Archers, you can imagine how sick of The Archers Salman Rushdie sometimes gets ..."

"Late Show on the line for you, Salman," said the policeman, putting his hand over the receiver.

"Tell them to get stuffed," said Salman without looking up from his word processor.

"Be fair, Salman," said the policeman. "They haven't pestered you for a while."

"I will not appear on the dreadful programme again," said Salman. "I can't stand those poncy young cultural undertakers pulling everything to bits, like inexperienced morticians trying to work out what makes a human body tick."

"Nice metaphor," said the policeman. "So shall I tell them to piss off?"

"If you would be so kind," said Salman.

"I'm afraid that new security arrangements have come into operation recently," the policeman told The Late Show. "And until they have been thoroughly tested, Mr Rushdie will not be appearing in public for a while. Thank you, goodbye."

There was silence in the room as Salman typed away and the policeman sat by the fire, writing in a pad. It was the famous literary prisoner who first broke the silence.

"Are there really new security measures in force, Frank?"

Police Constable Frank Wagstaff nodded.

"A few. The Iranians have been getting restive recently. This new literary competition they've announced ..."

"Oh, the story about what hell my life is, you mean?"

They both looked round the elegant flat with all its comforts and laughed.

"That's the one. Well, it shows they're feeling a bit humiliated by their failure to eliminate you from their inquiries, so to speak, and are doing a bit of stirring. So we must take extra precautions."

"Such as what?"

"Now, now, Salman," said Frank. "I don't ask you how to write books, so don't you ask me how to protect people."

Six months of proximity had given the two men an easy relationship. It had been tricky at first, but Salman and Frank had gradually got used to each other and passed certain awkward landmarks, ("Salman's a funny sort of name," Frank Wagstaff had dared tosay one day. "I believe it is cognate with Suleiman," said Salman. "Suleiman the Magnificent. The Sultan, you know."

"Salman the Magnificent, eh?" said Frank. "Fancy that." Behind Salman's back, for a while after they had called him The Magnificent One, but had now tired of the joke).

"I saw that Alan Yentob on the telly yesterday," said Frank. "At it again."

They both laughed. Neither could remember how it had started, but someone had once said Alan Yentob looked a bit like Salman from a distance. Someone else had said it would be a shame if someone took a pot shot at him instead of Salman by mistake. Then they started noticing that Alan Yentob was appearing more and more in public and Salman said it was probably to become more recognisable and less likely to be shot at. Now they laughed whenever Yentob appeared. These are the sort of things you laugh at when confined to a small space.

"Funny name, Yentob," said Salman.

"Yentob the Magnificent," said Frank Wagstaff and laughed. Salman didn't laugh. So Frank didn't any more. They fell silent and resumed their writing. PC Frank Wagstaff looked as if he was making notes in his pad.

He wasn't, as a matter of fact. He was trying his hand at a short story. His first ever short story. An entry for the Iranian government Salman Rushdie short story contest. Well, why not? At least he had done the research. All he had to do now was get the style ...

He glanced slightly guiltily at Salman, tapping away. Salman must never know what he was doing.

PC Frank Wagstaff might have been aback to learn that Salman, too, had for the last three days been working on a pseudonymous story about what hell his life was.

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