I’m so close it is within touching distance…
A short while ago, that delightful supportive simian Chris Graham permitted me space to announce the forthcoming arrival of my latest book – here.
Today Sally Cronin has given me one of her Five Star Treatments – here.
And today is the day I want you all to know that
MY FATHER AND OTHER LIARS
Is now ready and available for pre-order here, available from 14th August 2015.
You can now buy it for an early item to pop in those Christmas stockings. It is the perfect gift!
The paperback version will be available at about the same time and this time it will be available in bookshops to order as well as on-line. I’ve used a different Print on Demand service – FeedaRead, recommended by Ali Isaac (read her blog here – if you don’t know here work, then take a peek, you won’t be disappointed). Let’s hope it lives up to the hype. It appears to have support from the Arts Council as well as major publishers, Random House and Orion and looks pretty smart.
And to get the juices flowing, here is the opening part of the first chapter…
San Francisco – December
It was an apology. My father apologised.
“Sorry to keep you, Maurice.”
That was it. I’d travelled thousands of miles and spent thousands of pounds finding him and his first and only apology for putting me and Mum through years of hell was because he delayed me by going for a piss.
“Well come on.” He didn’t see the irony. “You’ll have to sit in with the rest of Joe Public. Up there.” He waved vaguely at a staircase to the right. “See you here, afterwards, Maurice. You can buy me lunch and tell me what you think of my style.”
“It’s Mo.” But he wasn’t listening; he was already heading for the door to the press section.
The press conference was already underway as I took my seat. The panel sat at a line of tables, covered in a white cloth; my eyes scanned along the speakers hunting for the one my Father had told me to look out for. That was my first sight of Lori-Ann Beaumont.
We had spent a fractious few hours driving from his home north of San Francisco. I had half listened to him bleat on about what he thought we’d hear. The only thing I’d really registered was her name and how he intended to make her squirm. That put me firmly in her camp before we arrived. Eventually we parked the car and headed south of Mission for the nondescript hotel where I now sat.
I was a long way up so had to scrunch my eyes to see her. All I really remember were the jet-black pigtails and the odd way her thick eyebrows curved down the side of her eyes. And her ruddy complexion, which may have been due to the unflattering lighting. Anyway it all put me in mind of Pocahontas. From the way she was hunched forward I guessed she expected the kind of grilling my Father had threatened, but to begin with the questions seemed pretty bland. Then, after 20 minutes or so my Father began his interrogation.
“Isn’t it hypocritical, Ms Beaumont, for a scientist such as yourself, used to experimenting on human embryos in the name of research, to be protesting against Prop Ten?”
“No. I believe in the right to life, but I also feel it would waste God’s Goodness and Love if we allowed those embryos that would otherwise be destroyed to be wasted…”
That was when the chair cut her off with a raised hand. He looked like an old-school preacher, all lumpy jaw and well-tended hair. The panel comprised ten people and it was pretty clear from their body language that Ms Beaumont was in the minority. Maybe of one. There were hushed whispers and some head shaking. I checked the flyer I had been given on the way in: The Evangelical Churches Congress against Proposition Ten, Chair Senator, The Reverend George Gardiner. From his furious face the Reverend didn’t look to be a man of peace.
Dad had said he would create ‘a bit of a stir’. At least he had got that right.
I leant over the balustrade to see the press, sitting in the front four rows directly below. Dad’s bald pate twinkled back at me. Some sixth sense must have made him look up; I bet he winked. I had a sudden rush of sympathy, or pity at least, for the isolated Ms Beaumont. This felt like blood sport, not a conference on some dry piece of Californian legislation.
When I’d traced my Father to North California, I had expected to find him sorry, contrite even at having abandoned us. I also wanted to find him down on his uppers. But he was relaxed and clearly surviving perfectly well as a successful and well-respected investigative journalist.
I had been ready to fly back to England the day before, when he told me he was attending this conference because one of the speakers was from a church – the Church of Science and Development – and the daughter of its leader, Pastor Isaac Beaumont who was ‘one of the biggest crooks in the televangelical world’.
I flopped back. I felt bone-tired and cross with myself. I suppose, if I was honest, I kind of hoped he would be shown up in some way; maybe I’d find his Kryptonite. That was as high as I set my expectations now. But here he was doing exactly what he said he would do. Damn him.
“They’re total shits, Maurice,” he had said. There, by the way, was another reason to loathe him; I am Mo to everyone but him and telesales people. “California wants to pass legislation accessing federal grants for the use of waste embryos in genetic research – they’re left over from IVF treatment – but the Church is going to protest against this despite the fact their university has used just such embryos and already accesses Federal money for genetic research. Hypocrites.”
I didn’t care about Beaumont or his Church but since Dad hated Beaumont, the Pastor and his daughter had my vote.
Ms Beaumont struggled to get a word in edgeways as my Father ruthlessly pursued his line of questions, now egged on by some of his fellow hacks. He was exploiting her obvious inexperience and her inarticulacy and, right at that moment, I wanted to hit him. I narrowed my eyes and tried to imagine what his nose would look like spread over his face but failed. He was too old and, I realised with a rush, I didn’t care enough anymore. After 30 years of anger and hate it turned out that I no longer cared.
My notebook fell off my lap. Dad was asking about someone called Opache. I fumbled to find the last page I’d used. That morning, as we were driving down, Dad had mentioned Opache and I’d written it in capitals and circled it. He had said, “There’s a story in this for you, you know.”
“How so? British papers aren’t going to waste ink on some local skirmish over some scrambled eggs.”
His smile alone was a cause for murder. “You heard of Ernest Opache?”
He knew I hadn’t. I didn’t bother to shake my head.
“He’s a lawyer, real scumbag who’s leading the support for Proposition Ten – that’s the California legislation…”
“I’m keeping up, Dad.”
“And he’s just as big a crook as Beaumont.”
“He’s setting up in the UK. Rumour has it the IRS are getting a bit pushy about his tax affairs and he’d like a bit of distance. You’ve similar legislation coming up in the UK, and similar pressure groups trying to stop or limit the use of these waste embryos. I bet Ernie thinks he can make a buck or two levering off his experiences here. That and he’s a supreme ambulance chaser, and I know how much the UK can do with another shyster lawyer. Even you can squeeze a story out of that.”
‘Even you…’ Thanks for the vote of confidence, Dad.
I listened to the questions but they made little sense without more background and I was losing the will to live rapidly. I wasn’t going to wait for him. I wasn’t going to go for a meal. I didn’t want to talk to him again. I didn’t need the fake ‘goodbyes’ and ‘let’s meet agains’ anyway. I had just picked up my coat, ready to make for the exit when someone down below, I guessed near Dad, started shouting at the stage. Ms Beaumont was speaking again and straining to be heard. I rolled my eyes and moved to the door. The old man would be loving the spectacle he had caused and I really did not want to be around at the scene of his triumph. Time to withdraw to the airport and find somewhere for a snooze.
As soon as the door to the gallery closed behind me the noise level dropped dramatically. I skipped down the stairs, took a left and headed for the back of the hotel where I’d noticed a cab rank. The corridor was poorly lit with the sort of dim orange illumination that gave street lighting a bad name back in the eighties. As the passage curved to the left a service lift door opened and a maid began to heave out her trolley. A wheel seemed to have stuck in the gap between the lift and the shaft. “Here.” I held the door and gave the trolley a push. With a bump the wheel came free. That won me a lovely smile.
Just then a door to my right banged open. Noise exploded from it followed by Ms Beaumont. Almost at the same moment another door further to my right flew open and two men, one carrying a camera, stumbled out.
“Ms Beaumont. A word, please.” “Lori, can we have a few words…”
The poor woman looked terrified, like the proverbial rabbit in the headlights. More people – all men – were pouring out of the press section. Two thoughts hit me almost simultaneously. My Dad would be out soon, chasing his story – and I needed to help her escape.
“Over here.” I waved at the lift. To the maid I said, “Can we get out this way?”
The maid took a second before nodding. “Down. The garage.”
Ms Beaumont didn’t hesitate; she threw herself into the lift as I jabbed my finger on the close door button. With a hiss, the doors shut out the tsunami of questions.
With the wolves defeated I studied their prey. A line of sweat beaded her forehead and her cheeks glowed with intense pink dots. Up close I’d guess her age nearer 30 than 20. “You okay?”
She nodded, eyes firmly closed.
“What happened in there?”
She said nothing.
“I was in the gallery. Everyone seemed to be picking on you?”
One eye opened, then both. “Are you a journalist?” Her voice was shaky.
I smiled. I hoped in a comforting sort of way. “Yes, but I’m British. I…” I wanted to say something cute, God knows why. Just to impress a pretty women I suppose. Not an unusual situation. “I’m more interested in Ernest Opache. He’s coming our way. I thought I might gain some background, given his support for the Proposition.” She nodded as if taking all this in slowly. “Why did you leave like that?”
She smiled, not looking at me. “A member of the audience threw something at me. Not one of my fans, I suppose. The leader of my group suggested I leave but that started a stampede.”
“Senator Gardiner? Your leader?”
She looked up and snorted. “Him? No way. He hates me more than the shoe thrower I’d imagine. No, the man to my immediate left. Silver hair, grey tie?”
I shook my head. No image came to me. I suppose I wasn’t surprised. I had sensed everyone on the stage was against her so if she had some support it had to have been very ineffective.
“He’ll be pleased. He likes flying under the radar. Daniel Albertstein is leading our mission supporting the Congress.” She pulled her shoulders back as the lift slowed to a stop. “I haven’t thanked you, Mr…?”
“Oldham. Mo Oldham. My Father…” I stopped myself. Why should he get any airtime? “It was a pleasure Ms Beaumont.” We stepped into the garage and headed for the ramp. “I guess we can find our way out—” Her hand stopped me.
“Can we wait? I need to call my friend. He’ll bring a car around.”
“Sure. Of course.”
She smiled. “I’m Lori-Ann.” While she pulled out a phone and called her friend I peered through the grill. The service yard gave onto a narrow dirty alleyway. It was devoid of people and smelt of old food. As she finished I turned to face her. One of her thick eyebrows slid up. “So, do you act like you’re Robin Hood a lot, Mr Oldham?”
I made a small bow. I was about to say something stupidly sexist and caught myself. “It’s Mo. Please.”
“Well, I’m grateful. I doubt I was in danger but I really don’t need the hassle right now.” Her face clouded briefly. It felt like she was fighting some inner demon but she forced the smile back. “You’re interested in Counsellor Opache then? Well, I hope you find him out. He’s spent a lot of time trying to discredit our Church.”
“I heard some of that. Maybe you’d like to explain some of the background?”
“That would be lovely but I need to re-join my people. Here,” she fumbled inside her coat and handed me a leaflet. “If you’re interested in our Church.”
The Modern Way to God. I controlled the urge to gag and folded the flyer into my notebook.
She said, “I hope to be in England next summer. In London. Maybe we can meet up and I can tell you the sorry story about Mr Opache and my Father. My treat.”
“That’d be just dandy.” Why was I sounding like a second-rate Cary Grant? I dug into my wallet, hunting a card. All I could find was one belonging to my colleague and drinking buddy, Mervin Deacon. I found a pen and added my name and mobile. “I’m in London too. This isn’t me – just a good friend – but that’s my mobile, my cell. If you’re serious or if you need someone to show you the sights, give me a call.”
Just then a shadow fell across us. She said, “That you Jimmy?”
“Sure, Lori-Ann. Let’s go.”
She pushed the green button releasing the door. Something about her changed. She seemed stiffer, more formal, like she was putting on a show. An albino gorilla stood on the far side eyeing me like I was lunch, which was odd because I always thought they were herbivores. “Who’s this?”
“He rescued me Jimmy. Mr Oldham.” She stuck out a hand. “I’d like to offer you a lift but we must get to City Hall as soon as we can. Thank you once again.” She paused before grasping my elbow and stretching up to kiss my cheek.
I watched their SUV with its blacked out windows slide away and then followed on foot. San Francisco was coated in a ball-numbing fog and it began to seep into my bones. I hunkered into my inadequate coat and went on a cab hunt. A small part of me wanted to call Dad and say, ‘You’ll never guess who I had in my lift?’ but I couldn’t be bothered. I needed to get home, not waste more time on him.
Do feel free to buy it; as before all the proceeds will go to charity. I haven’t decided which one yet but I will let you know.