His two previous books "The Good Mayor" and "The Love and Death of Caterina" had their respective merits; actually the second is much better than the first, being, very nearly, a great book.
But while in all of his books he creates great characters in the first two books the characters had their hour upon the stage and then passed on into memory.
His third book however created the same great characters and then left them out at sea and on an unknown course. So I wrote, or at least tweeted, that his readers, or at least I, demanded a sequel. To which his response was not only that there would be no sequel but that he had stopped writing altogether.
So I threatened him that if he didn't write the sequel, I would do it for him. And he responded by threatening to sue.
And that's where we'd got to when I sat down to write tonight.
All the characters that follow are his characters (I say in mitigation of damages) and the writing is no more than pastiche. Actually, all I'm hoping to do is to turn the faucet in the hope it might assist a man with a prostrate problem (for the avoidance of doubt, and again mitigation of damages, that is a general and not a specific analogy). Otto, and Sarah, and Tifty and Max can't just be left there. Go on Andy, write the sequel!
The First Chapter of the Book Andy Nicoll ought to be writing
“Raus, raus, raus”.
Contrary to every expectation an hour ago, he had fallen asleep. But he was suddenly awake now.
At a different time and place he would have taken some time to gather his thoughts but this was neither the time nor place for such hesitation. With a speed that belied his years, if not his former status as a circus acrobat, he leapt from his bed and took himself to be presented at his door.
Outside, it was not the rain which drew his attention, or the scene of utter devastation which lay before his eye. They were both wearily familiar.
Rather it was the scattering of field grey uniforms advancing confidently towards his run down caravan.
Although he had already patently “raused”, this action was clearly insufficient for the figure in the lead of this group to cease his demands. He strode angrily towards him, pushed him roughly to one side, and while continuing to shout loudly, stormed (yes, that was undoubtedly the word) into Otto’s home.
Within a few seconds, he re-emerged. “Are you harbouring any deserters?” he demanded. Now, it is difficult to imagine where such miscreants might be have been concealed within the caravan’s six square metres but such an observation by Otto would have been ill-advised in the circumstance. Almost as ill advised as confessing that there were indeed the remnants of the 23rd Panzer Division hiding under the floorboards. So, with a quick glance at his interrogators insignia, Otto replied “Certainly not! Herr Oberleutnant.”
“Have you seen any deserters?”
Now this was a more difficult question to answer, for who by now had not seen those who might at least be strongly suspected of such a status? The War was lost. The only hope remaining was that the Americans might arrive before the Russians. Or, indeed, that either might arrive before the British bombing made the question personally irrelevant. But it wasn’t just the little man with the moustache who was in denial about that reality. And his questioner might just be one of them. If only the deserters could be rounded up and driven back to the front (or at least shot) and despite all evidence to the contrary, surely the tide might yet be turned.
But to admit that deserters had been seen would open one up to apparent sympathy with their actions, while to deny it would surely only expose you as a liar. And people had been shot for less. Either way.
Fortunately, Otto’s hesitation was his own salvation. Or possibly the Officer’s own realisation that his question was rhetorical. For it was the soldier that spoke next.
“How long have you lived here?”
“In this caravan, or on this site?” Otto replied, realising at once that this was a mistake.
“You are not a gypsy?”
“No, certainly not, Herr Oberleutnant “
Otto had always liked gypsies. He liked their disregard for authority; their colourful clothing; their wild music. He had enjoyed their company on many occasions. But he also knew that it was a long time since he had seen any gypsies in Germany. And that it was unlikely he’d be seeing many of them again.
“You don’t look like a gypsy (inwardly, Otto sighed with relief) but why are you living in a caravan?”
“I was a circus acrobat” Otto replied. He could also have added that he had once, briefly, been King of Albania but that was also something for which this was neither the time or place. “When the circus broke up, this was all I was left with.” This and a horse which had died of starvation some weeks ago and was then butchered and eaten within the hour by once respectable house fraus who had descended upon it as if mannah from heaven. But that was also information he did not need to impart.
“In Germany?” Again his possible gypsy origin loomed into view.
“Yes, Herr Oberleutnant, And in the wider Reich.”
This seemed to satisfy the questioner who suddenly lapsed into reminiscence.
“I have not been to the circus for many years” as if that was a leisure activity he might recommence that very evening. “Do they still have camels?”
It was odd the extent to which so many Germans loved camels. For, frankly, what use was a camel to a circus? It couldn’t, or at least wouldn’t, do tricks. It didn’t scare you with the thought it might escape. It wasn’t even nearly as efficient as a horse at running around at speed, at least within the confines of a circus tent. Nonetheless, Otto had once had just about the best meal of his life in Vienna in the curiously named Schwarzen Cameel, courtesy of a Jewish psychiatrist who, he had realised just in time, was not so much interested in getting inside of his mind as getting inside another part of his anatomy altogether. Where was the Herr Doktor now? That thought jerked him back to the present.
“I’m sure they do Herr Oberleutnant, but I have left the circus.”
“To do what?” The note of suspicion seemed to have re-entered his voice.
“To survive, Herr Oberleutnant “
The officer paused. “That’s a pity, for a camel might have provided my men” and at this he gestured towards his command which seemed to consist, in reality, of two or three schoolboys and one veteran who looked even older than even Otto himself, “with a good meal”. With that he laughed at his own joke, if that is what it was, and signalled that they should all move on.
Having cautiously watched them walking away, Otto re-entered his caravan, lay down on his bed, and, with the relief of a man saved from the thought that he might have just escaped that very state more permanently, promptly fell asleep.
“Can’t we eat the camel?”
It was indisputable that Tifty Gourdas, one time Magyar Countess, had a magnificent chest. Otto was at least as appreciative of that as the next man. But it was equally indisputable that she had the most annoying voice.
It had to be admitted that Otto Witte, sometime, briefly, King of Albania had not anticipated leaving his realm quite so abruptly. And that thus he had failed to instruct the retainers temporarily at his disposal to adequately provision his boat for such an eventuality. Never mind the boat that, if not exactly his, was nonetheless now bearing him and the fellow survivors of his temporary experiment at Kingship across the waves of the Adriatic and towards an uncertain future.
It was hardly his fault that, seized of the opportunity provided by his uncanny resemblance to the man truly in line for the position, he had attempted to seize the Albanian throne. Or that the Albanian Treasury he had come to plunder had consisted of no more than a few chests of paper for which the mysterious Englishman, Arbuthnot, who had joined their expedition, could find no better use than lighting his cigars. Or that Professor Alberto Mesmer, the father of his one true love, Sarah, had been killed in the process.
Actually, that last was the one thing that was not in any way his fault, but it was the one thing for which he was most truly sorry.
“I wish she would be quiet” said Sarah as she moved even further away from him than might have seemed possible in what was an already a very small double bed. Through the night that had passed he had tried to console her without resort to the physical exhibition that would have undermined his own now established affection. But just as he thought he had succeeded, Tifty’s intervention had recalled both of them to the reality of their location. Somewhere, God alone knew exactly where, off the Albanian Coast, with no money, no food and, in Sarah’s case, not even any father.
“I’ll go up” he reassured her.
As he emerged on deck it was not however Tifty that he first encountered.
“Otto”, it was Max, in all senses his strongest friend. “Tifty is hungry. I am trying my best” and with this he gestured hopefully to the fishing rod he had dangling over the side of the boat “but she wants to eat the camel.”
“Don’t be ridiculous” he responded seized not only with affection for the animal which had accompanied them all the way from Budapest but also with the impracticability of capturing, never mind slaughtering, such a beast on the deck of a small yacht bobbing about the Adriatic. “Where’s Arbuthnot?”
Max nodded towards the stern where the Englishman, apparently immune from the need to sleep, was tending the tiller with one hand while adjusting the sails with the other. Otto made his way towards him.
“This is just wonderful, my dear fellow” observed the Englishman, waving a suddenly free arm over the azure sea, “like Cowes in the very best of weather. If only the late dear Queen could be here to see us.”
Quite how and why Arbuthnot came to be in their company was something of a mystery to Otto but he had his suspicions that Arbuthnot’s activities might not be quite so entirely independent of the British Imperial authorities as he himself maintained them to be.
“We have no food” said Otto, in an attempt to bring matters somewhat down to earth. “and we certainly can’t go back to Albania, where we’d be hanged, or even put in further up the coast where the Austrians would undoubtedly arrest us before hanging us later.”
“Nil desperandum!” To date Arbuthnot and he had been speaking in common German so he was a bit taken aback at this lapse into Latin, albeit at such a basic level that even he could comprehend. “As you and Fraulein Sarah slept, I have set a course not North but North West, towards what was once the most serene Republic, the Jewel of the Adriatic, the City of Lights. Where, between you and I, we can only hope we will arrive long before the Baroness causes our dromedary friend to expire out of sheer annoyance.”
And at that, with an unexpected yelp, he was distracted by Max, who had caught on his line the sustenance that was, as it transpired, to keep them alive until that legendary harbour was reached.