Clyde Thornton's story
When I first met Larry Spiver, I was not immediately attracted or indeed particularly impressed. He was introduced to me as the 'famous' author of the best-selling novel 'Cock a Doodle' and I hadn't even read it, though naturally I'd heard of it. Who hadn't? Well, of course that depends on when you are reading this. Five years ago everyone, or at least every literate person, would have heard of him but how quickly celebrity status fades, unless it's constantly reinforced by activity or perhaps scandal.
We were both at some literary function, I remember, in my home town of Feltenham, with drinks (that is rather nasty cheap wine) and some sorts of nibbles (probably from the cheap Iceland supermarket and heated up in a microwave). I forget whom or what it was in aid of, some charitable concern presumably, an offshoot of the Literary Festival certainly. The tabloid press were there, hoping for something sensational, a female breast bursting free from its moorings in a low-cut gown, or a male getting drunk and hitting someone else something anyway that they could blow up out of all proportion and trumpet as the following day's gossip headlines.
I was there because I'd had a book of short stories published a couple of months before and my agent had twisted someone's arm to get me an invitation. "Talk to people, Clyde," she had said. "Blow your own trumpet a bit. You're always too reticent."
I'd promised but, when I got there, I didn't really know how to do it, and had hovered on the outskirts clutching my glass of red and looking, no doubt, completely out of place. Someone in publishing whom I knew vaguely - we had the same agent - had taken pity on me and had introduced me to Larry Spiver, who had just emerged from a crowd of well-wishers and was looking a trifle shell-shocked. He didn't look too much like his photos which I'd seen plastered all over Waterstone's windows for the last month.
They had made him appear bookish and young with a pair of thick-rimmed spectacles and a cap of dark hair revealing a high forehead and ears that stuck out slightly. In real life the hair was much lighter and he'd let it grow into a curly mop which flopped over his forehead. That evening he wasn't wearing glasses either and his eyes were a rather washed-out blue. He looked in fact slightly lost and perhaps I would have warmed to him if I hadn't been so envious of his success.
Our conversation therefore was short and not particularly memorable. "Larry Spiver," said my acquaintance, "this is Clyde Thornton. He's just brought out a book of short stories." He didn't mention Larry's opus; he didn't need to but it rankled a bit that my modest publication had to be explained whereas his didn't. Larry nodded amiably enough though he didn't say anything, presumably expecting some sort of gushing praise of 'Cock a Doodle'.
I didn't even mention it; I guess it would have been embarrassing to admit I hadn't read the book. And he didn't ask me about my book either. Instead we talked for a little while about this sort of literary junketing. He said he quite liked them and so of course I had to agree. "Sort of places where you meet people," I said vaguely.
"Sometimes too many," he said, as a group of people came up to him, saying how much they had enjoyed 'Cock a Doodle' and one asking whether the protagonist with the silly name, Platforth Distal, wasn't in fact a self-portrait. I missed his answer as someone else broke in almost immediately
"I thought you conveyed the atmosphere of 70's London so perfectly," she said, "especially where you described the . . ."
But the compliment faded as I withdrew from the circle and walked away.
'Pompous oaf' I said to myself. Not that he had been particularly egotistic except that I felt I'd been cheated of his company, and here I was alone again. I grabbed another glass of wine but it tasted sour and cheap and I put it down. I decided to leave and made for the door.
The function was being held in the Town Hall, a large room with mock Corinthian columns down each side. There was a bar and a few tables with chairs round them but these were filled. The exit at the end was obscured by milling literary people and fans, and clouds of tobacco smoke - this was of course before the days when smoking was prohibited in public places. Giving up everything for lost I excused my way through the crowd and made for the exit.
I had nearly reached it when someone emerged from behind one of the pillars and grabbed my arm. It was Larry Spiver, I was surprised that he'd managed to escape from his fans, even more surprised that he obviously wanted to speak to me.
"You aren't leaving, are you?" he asked.
I didn't want to admit that I'd given up on the literary world - or rather perhaps that it had given up on me, so I answered. "It's so bloody smoky in here. I just wanted some fresh air."
He agreed. "Is it all right if I come along with you?"
I was even more surprised. In his position I'd have wanted to stay and bask in the adulation but I did feel a little glow of satisfaction that he'd prefer me to that. This swiftly faded as I decided he must be a fool. He'd put on his glasses, which I considered slightly daft, as he now looked even more like his photograph in the book stores and certainly didn't disguise him if he was hoping to escape his admirers.
"You'll be missed," I said.
He shrugged as if he didn't care. Fool, I thought, if I was a celebrity I'd milk it for all it was worth.
"OK," I said and we made our way out into the dull evening. A misty rain was falling and it wasn't very pleasant.
I didn't know where we were going. I wondered whether to suggest a drink in a pub when he suddenly said, "They've given me a room in a rather grand hotel. I expect it's got a mini bar. How about raiding it?"
He pointed to the Imperial Hotel just over the street and I agreed it was rather grand. For a moment I couldn't understand why he wanted my company, why he had given the invitation and then I realised - or thought I did. He fancied me. Presumably he'd make a pass at me when we got back to his room. That didn't particularly faze me. I was gay, though I wondered how he knew because I didn't think I was obviously so. But then he didn't look gay either.
I wondered whether I fancied him.
Actually I was in the state of hormones when I fancied practically anyone or at least was prepared to put up with being encouraged into a sexual climax by most things in trousers (or preferably without) as long as they were about my age and weren't exactly the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I suppose that makes me sound a bit of a slut but in extenuation I have to say I was young(ish), randy most of the time and without a regular boyfriend. Anyway, Larry was, I decided, quite attractive and I'd forgive his success for the duration of our coitus if it came to that. It might even give me a sort of clout amongst the gay coterie to which I belonged. 'Larry Spiver', I'd be able to say. 'Oh I've had her! Quite good in bed (or whatever I would discover) and of course a complete bottom.'
"OK," I said.
But I was going to leave the first move to him.
The room was luxurious, all cream and blue, more a suite because there was a bedroom, a sitting room and of course the bathroom. Even so it was still a hotel room. There was no individuality, no personality, though I could have lived in it if I'd been as famous as Larry.
He opened the mini bar which displayed rows of individual bottles of spirits. There was also a chilled bottle of champagne and, with a raised eyebrow, Larry took this out.
"What are we celebrating?" I asked.
"Your book of short stories," he said. I was quite surprised; I hadn't realised he'd actually taken in that comment by my friend. "And of course 'Cock a Doodle'."
That was it, I thought. That was what it was really about. The vanity of these so-called celebrities, still I wouldn't object to some glasses of free champagne. I sat down in one of the armchairs with my right leg over the arm. There, that was as far as I was going to go. I'd put myself into an open, inviting position. The rest, if there was going to be any, was up to Larry.
He came over with two glasses. They were flat glasses, but should have been flutes though no doubt the hotel provided them and knew no better. He handed one to me, and stood there between my legs. He held up his glass. "To us," he said.
I smiled and looked him straight in the eyes. He could walk back and sit down in another chair, or take a short step forward and his knee would be resting in my groin. There was a long pause. I took a sip then moved slightly as if to make myself more comfortable but in reality to open my legs just that bit more. That must have decided him. He took that step forward and pressed his leg into my crotch. OK, he'd made his move so I pressed back.
With my free hand I groped him, feeling the softness and then a hardening so I could make out the outline of his cock. His eyes, soft blue, were fixed on me. He sighed. "You're beautiful," he said.
I don't want to sound bigheaded but I'd heard that before and recognised I was good-looking. I had no wish for compliments though and wanted to get down to the real sex, so I rubbed his cock through the soft material of his trousers.
"Let's go into the bedroom," I said, taking the initiative and leading him by his cock through to the bed. I fell back on it and pulled him onto me. I like a certain amount of foreplay with clothes on so we rolled about on the bed. But he was gagging for it, pressing himself against me and moaning and gasping, and, when I grabbed hold of his buttocks and pulled his arse cheeks apart, probing with my fingers into the crack, even through his trousers, he shouted so loudly I feared room service would be up asking if we needed something.
Clearly Larry did, so, I pulled open the zip of his trousers, and he shoved them off together with a pair of boxers. He turned round almost before I'd got my cock out and pushed himself onto it wriggling and rubbing so that I was almost in before I could even start thinking condoms etc.
"Hang on," I said. He could take what he liked into his body but I didn't want to have nasty little viruses creeping from in there back into mine, so I held him down while I took off my trousers, found a johnny in my jacket pocket (like a Boy Scout, always prepared), pulled it on and stuffed, for starters a couple of fingers in his mouth to get them wet and then into his arse. He was tight, very tight and I asked him where the lube was.
"No lube," he said. "Just get in there."
So I pushed my cock in. It must have hurt. He gasped a couple of times as I got past the muscle but once in, he was enjoying it. Even his cock remained erect. You know how sometimes once in, the other person's cock shrivels but his remained hard and high and I grabbed hold of it, biting the soft skin at the back of his neck quite hard because I thought he'd like it.
And he did. He forced himself back on me so that his buttocks were right against my groin, so that my balls collided with his, so that my cock must have gone right up into his bowels, to the greatest of effects. And as I pushed and pulled and he bucked under the onslaught I felt him tighten up and then his sphincter muscle contract and I knew he was coming. That spurred me into my own orgasm and we came together, mine spurting into his body, his spraying into my hand and onto the sheets.
"Jesus," I said. "That was some fuck."
For a moment, he didn't say anything and I wondered whether I'd hurt him but then he turned to face me, my cock slipping out and his, wet and limp, and kissed me. Now I've nothing against kissing. In fact a good, raunchy kiss, with tongues twining and approaching the tonsils, is a good way of starting off a sex marathon. But after things are over and climaxes achieved, really the next thing is the clearing up, a brief brushing of lips is acceptable before a zealous application of towels and/or tissues. Larry, however, seemed to think osculation was appropriate post coitum and I put up with it until I managed to extricate my somewhat besmirched body and started on the process of clearing up.
Then Larry said, "You're not going. Surely you'll stay the night."
Now that's something I rarely do. I can never sleep properly, however wide the bed, when there's another body next to me. I like to sprawl, to spread my limbs, toss and turn into free areas and when there's someone else filling the spare areas, I do not sleep well. So I said, "Sorry, Larry, I've got to get back."
"But I'll see you again," he said.
"Sure," I said.
"Let's finish the bottle."
I had nothing against that so we drank the rest, swapped home telephone numbers and I extricated myself from Larry's amatory farewells and left.
* * * * * *
I thought that was probably that. I'd met the renowned Larry Spiver, we'd fucked and he'd carry on as a celebrity and I'd remain in my little rut, unnoticed and unsung. I had a little flat, well, two rooms really, at the grottier end of the High Street, as far away as it was possible to get from the Imperial Hotel.
But the oddest things happen and the following day after my little adventure I had a telephone call. It was Larry. He sounded a little embarrassed and uncertain what to say but eventually he came out with it. Would I have dinner with him that evening? It was his last day in town and the following day he'd be going back to the bright lights of London where he lived in a bijou little town house in smarter than smart Hampstead.
I envied him. Of course I did. Here I was, condemned to a life in the provinces working at a day job I hated with an insurance company at the moment there was no chance of my being able to live on the proceeds of my writing and there he was, in my eyes almost a millionaire, courted, fêted, adored by both public and publishers alike.
Out of sheer jealousy, I nearly refused but then thought I'd only be spiting myself out of a free meal, so I accepted.
He'd chosen the best restaurant in town, one that I'd never be able to afford. Was that to show me up? OK, I'd put up with that, the food and wine were reputed to be out of this world, but I made my little protest by arriving late. I saw him across the restaurant, sitting alone at the table, sipping a glass of wine and looking worried. When he saw me, his face lit up. I'd often written that and it was obviously a sort of cliché but that was really what happened. His eyes opened, a smile spread over his face, he suddenly became rejuvenated, animated, alive. He stood up and held out a hand which I took.
"I thought you weren't coming," he said.
"Am I late?" I asked. "Sorry. I was working on some writing and must have forgotten the time."
"That's all right," he said. "It's just that I've been looking forward to this evening ever since I phoned you . . ."
Jeez, I thought, this guy really has the hots for me. And that made me feel good, as if I had a sort of power over him. I was going to enjoy this meal.
And I did, choosing the best and most expensive dishes he could after all afford it while he chose some really fine wines, or so the wine waiter said. I must admit I'm not much of an expert on wines, but they certainly slipped down sweetly and complemented the food.
We chatted, mostly about my writing. He'd apparently bought a copy of my little book of short stories and was effusive in his praise. I wondered how much of it was true or if he was using it to get into my pants again. Not that that really worried me. I mellowed with the food and wine and by the end of the meal found that, however much my feelings for him as a person were governed by my envy, I'd have no objection to another bout of sex.
And so it was. He really couldn't have enough of it and once back in his room at the hotel, I fucked the brains out of him. I was good too. You could tell from his responses that I was extracting the last traces of enjoyment out of him as well as the final spurts of semen. Eventually satisfied, we opened another bottle of wine and we drank it until I went against my usual policy of not staying overnight with a trick the bed was really large and agreed to stay.
He was insatiable, couldn't get enough, and I performed pretty well, I thought. Another two times during the night and then once more in the early morning as the grey light of dawn crept through the windows. In between times he started getting lovey dovey, said he couldn't live without me, and on and on. What a dork! As if anyone could get into that sort of feeling on the strength of a couple of nights uninhibited sex. And this was the person whom everyone seemed to have put on a pedestal, claimed he stood a good chance of becoming a 21st century Nobel Prize winner for Literature.
And here he was whimpering as he was speared on my prong.
The morning came, as always it must and I prepared to leave. It was Sunday and Larry wanted me to stay for the day but, to be frank, I was sore and wanted to go to bed and sleep until work on Monday. He must have been even more sore. I was quite surprised that he could walk.
Anyway we bade farewell and he said we must keep in touch. Would I come to visit him in London. "Sure," I said, anxious to get away.
"Perhaps you can stay there for a while."
"Sure." With every intention of never seeing him again.
So there it was over. I went home and Larry returned to London and his life of fêted adoration. I heard him on the radio a couple of times and once even saw him on the television. Looked a bit peaky, I thought, but that might have been the lighting.
Well, actually, things weren't going too well for me. The following week I lost my sodding, frigging, bastard job, made redundant when my insurance company was taken over by a bigger one. In the new company some jobs were duplicated. mine apparently being one, and I was the unnecessary and unwanted half of the pair.
I got over the shock (well almost) and then decided that here might be an opportunity with the redundancy money, I told myself, to write, unencumbered by the need to prostitute my talents to the business world.
After a while, though, I realised I was fooling myself. The money, though fairly generous, wouldn't last for ever and somehow this fact, in the back of my mind, took away any inspiration I had for writing. I wanted to start a new novel but the enormity of the task held me in awe. Perhaps I would have been encouraged if my book of short stories, already published, had sold better. The sales, my agent showed - not that he needed to - the decline in my monthly royalty cheque was evidence enough, and eventually I was told it would be more worthwhile if I got it annually, depressed me. I began to lose faith in my own ability.
As a sort of memento mori of my little flirtation with Larry I had bought a copy of his book, read it, and found it was so much better than I had expected. The hype wasn't as exaggerated as I'd thought. He was a bloody good writer, I had to admit, though this did not endear him any more to me.
In a sudden fit of depression I thought gloomily of having to find another soul-destroying job. Angrily I picked up Larry's book and flung it across the room. It struck the wall and fell to the floor, leaves open, spine broken.
And then the phone rang.
Almost unbelievable coincidence, it was Larry.
For a moment I nearly slammed down the receiver. Then I listened.
"Clyde," he said. "What are you doing this week? Can you take the time off from work and come up to London."
"I'm writing," I said shortly. "The job's over. I was made redundant."
There was a pause and for a moment I thought he'd rung off. Then, "Come and stay here. You can write here. There's plenty of space. You can have a room to yourself and a computer, word processor."
I was going to say no, but then I thought, why not? A visit to London, to the gay spots, to live in some luxury provided by a willing, if lovelorn, author. Surely that couldn't be bad - well, not for me at any rate. The beginnings of a plan started in the dark recesses of my mind.
"Sure," I said.
* * * * * *
The agent's story
As Larry Spiver's literary agent, I obviously took a great deal of interest in him. To be frank I also took a great deal of interest 'from' him about 20% to be precise. He was a veritable little money earner, especially after his novel 'Cock a Doodle' became a best-seller.
After this success I was anxious that he wouldn't just rest on his laurels but get down to work on his next book so, as a friendly gesture, I would make frequent visits to what he used to describe as his 'bijou little residence' in Hampstead, to check on his progress and then to take him out for a slap-up meal at some expensive restaurant where we could discuss developments.
The first time I did this, I found that Larry's 'bijou' little house was nothing like I had imagined it. It was a large, redbrick, Victorian, three storey detached house in its own grounds in Fitzjohns Avenue, once owned by Sir Cedric Hardwicke, the actor. There was still a huge organ half way up the imposing flight of stairs, the console facing the entrance and the pipes stretching to the ceiling of the first floor.
The furnishing of the house was luxurious, not to my taste, of course. I prefer something a bit more minimalist but I suppose the heavy dark furniture, the fussy wallpaper, the rich heavy curtains were more of the period.
Larry enjoyed his fame, and I of course encouraged him to attend literary functions, arrange book-signing engagements, make TV appearances, chat on the radio etc. there's no such thing as bad publicity, as they say.
It was not long after the Feltenham Literary Festival, that I paid one of my periodic visits to Larry and met a young man, introduced as Clyde Thornton, who was apparently staying with him at the house. He was darkly handsome, a thin face with what is described as a slight designer stubble, in other words, he hadn't bothered to shave. He seemed nervous and had a habit of running his hands through his short dark hair.
Larry seemed obsessed with him, following him with his eyes as he moved round the room, looking anxious if he left.
Once when this happened I asked Larry who he was and if he was staying long.
"As long as he wants to," said Larry shortly, sounding slightly annoyed as if I was prying which, in a way, I suppose I was. "He's a writer himself. Written some short stories."
"I hope he's not upsetting your work schedule," I said light-heartedly though I was really serious. "How is the new book going?"
"Fine," said Larry, almost dismissively, his eyes on the shut door, through which Clyde had disappeared.
"Anything I can read?" I asked.
"Not at the moment."
"Remember the advance you got specified that you keep to the deadlines. I think the first ten chapters are due at the end of the month."
"You can't rush the creative process," he said. "I'm writing."
"What's the book called?"
"Working title, 'Obsessions'."
"Good," I said. "Good. How about our meal out? Do you fancy the 'Casa Nuova'?"
Larry looked hesitant, glanced at the door. "I don't know if Clyde wants to go out," he said.
I got a little irritated. "It's you and the book I want to talk about," I said. "Can't you leave your guest for one evening?"
"I'll see what he says." He went out and I heard voices, raised but not loud enough for me to make out what was being said.
And apparently Clyde agreed for Larry returned and we went out. Alone, he seemed more like his usual self, discussing enthusiastically the book and his plans for it. I was more or less content when I went home later that evening.
But three weeks passed and the chapters did not arrive. I rang Larry but only got the answer-phone. I left a message to get back to me as soon as possible but the days went by and I heard nothing.
I wasn't going to let a valuable commodity like Larry Spiver slip through my fingers so I made a special journey to Hampstead to see what was going on. I wondered whether it was going to be a wasted trip as I'd tried several times to contact him via the phone with no answer but when I rang the doorbell and waited, I heard footsteps from inside.
Clyde Thornton opened the door. He looked a bit taken aback when he was it was me but apart from that he seemed to be in the best of spirits, confident, almost cocky, as he invited me in, just as if he was the owner of the house. He took me into one of the big front rooms and invited me to sit down on one of the large armchairs, the sort that almost swallow you up as you sink into their depths.
"Do you want a coffee?" he asked.
"I'd like to see Larry," I said, wanting to dispense with the hospitalities, which weren't really his to offer.
"Oh yes, of course. I'll see if he's up."
"Up?" I said. "Is he ill?" It was after all nearly midday.
"We had a bit of a celebration last night. Perhaps Larry rather overdid things."
Celebration or not, it certainly hadn't affected Clyde who looked the picture of good health. His skin was clear, his eyes shining, his hair glossy and black. He seemed to have lost the habit, which I'd noticed last time, of nervously running his hands through his hair.
"Are you sure you want me to get him up?" he asked.
I was about to say 'Yes' when the door was pushed open and Larry came in. Unlike Clyde, he looked terrible. I assume he wasn't wearing his contact lenses and he peered round vaguely. His hair was unwashed and lank and the skin on his face had a yellowish tinge. There were angry red pustules around the base of his nose. He was wearing jeans and a grubby-looking sweater with food stains down the front.
"I thought I heard voices," he said, looking at me without apparent recognition.
"God, you look terrible," I said, before I could stop myself.
Clyde looked angry at the unexpected interruption but he pulled himself together and said, "Larry. You need your medicine. Come on, I'll get it for you."
He grabbed Larry round the shoulders and hustled him out. Just before he went out he turned to me. "We won't be long," he said.
I waited but for some time they didn't return, so, growing bored, I wandered round the room. In the bay window which overlooked the road, there stood a table. On it were some sheets of A4 ruled paper. The writing on it wasn't Larry's but it was obviously notes for his novel. I recognised the style of some of the paragraphs which was similar, the writing taut and spare, the particular construction of his sentences individual and easily recognised. Perhaps, I thought, Larry had been dictating to Clyde though I couldn't understand the reason for this.
Some clipped conversation from outside the door meant that they were returning so I walked over to the other side of the room and waited.
Clyde and Larry came in. Whatever 'medicine' it was, it had certainly done some good. Larry was much clearer and I noticed he had changed his clothes to, if not smarter, at least a cleaner pair of jeans and sweater. He, or someone, had run a comb through his hair.
He greeted me as if the previous meeting, a few minutes earlier, had never happened and when I asked him about the book - and the failure to deliver the promised chapters, he said they were in hand and would be posted off in a couple of days.
There wasn't much more I could do. There was something going on between the two that I didn't like, but I didn't know what it was. I didn't like Clyde but with his being there I could hardly tell Larry that I thought he should get rid of him.
"Look forward to receiving the chapters," I said. "The publishers are expecting them."
He gave a faint smile and Clyde opened the door, showed me out through the hall. I turned round at the front door but Larry hadn't followed but I saw the huge array of organ pipes. I wondered whether anyone ever played the instrument.
I must admit I felt a sense of relief. of normality as I reached the pavement and followed a couple walking up the hill towards Hampstead Underground station. Even the sound and exhaust of the traffic was pleasant after the strangeness of what was going on in that house.
A package arrived at the office about a week later. I heaved a sigh of relief when I saw it was from Larry but this was quickly followed by a surge of doubt when I saw the contents. Certainly it was a a manuscript and typed by a word processor, but that was as far as it went. Sometimes it seemed they were just notes. Though occasionally a piece of continuous prose showed Larry's talent then this petered out into disconnected phrases, words - and sometimes into large areas of blanks. Was this a belated foray into postmodernism, I wondered, but trying to puzzle out the deteriorations resulted in a impression of madness rather than genius. Whatever this was, it would never make another best-seller.
I phoned him. Clyde answered. "Hello," he said, "Clyde Thornton here." Not even a mention of Larry.
"I need to speak to Larry?" I said.
"Sorry," said Clyde almost cheerfully. "I'm afraid Larry's not well at the moment. Can I give him a message?"
"What's the matter with him?" Then I added sarcastically, "Not been over-celebrating again?"
"Just a temporary indisposition. I'm sure he'll be up and about shortly."
"Has he seen a doctor?" I asked. "The last time I saw him, he didn't look well at all."
"He'll be all right. I'm looking after him."
For some reason I found this last comment more sinister rather than encouraging but perhaps I was allowing my dislike of the man to influence me. I felt I wanted to see Larry on his own and wondered how I could arrange that. Every time I'd been round, Clyde had been there. I thought perhaps a bit of flattery wouldn't come amiss.
"I hear you're a writer yourself," I said.
"Yes." He sounded cautious.
"Have you got an agent?" I asked.
"She's useless. I don't think she's got any contacts herself."
For the first time I felt a little sorry for him. "You've had something published though?"
"A book of short stories last year."
"Have you written anything recently?"
"A sort of draft of a novel. Some early chapters." The admission came out hesitantly.
"How would you like me to look at them?" I asked.
"If it's any good I might be able to place it for you." I sensed the suspicion in his tone but hoped I could allay ir. "I've got quite an influence around the publishing houses. Especially as I'm Larry's agent."
There was silence and I could imagine him thinking this through. Eventually he said, "OK."
"Want to come to the office today? I've got a free slot about midday. That'll give you an hour. Come on your own and we can have a private chat."
"OK," he repeated.
I'd got him.
I told my secretary that when a Mr Thornton arrived, she could tell him I'd been called out urgently and that I was sorry but would be in touch. Then I set off for Hampstead hoping that our paths wouldn't cross on the way or at least that we wouldn't meet. We didn't and I arrived in Fitzjohns Avenue wondering what I'd find.
I looked up at the house, its tall redbrick facade pierced with three rows of windows looked menacing though I tried to convince myself that it was just my imagination. Probably all that would happen was that Larry wouldn't be in. I climbed the flight of steps and rang the bell. It echoed hollowly through the house which sounded empty. I tried again.
I was about to turn away realising that my plans and subterfuge had come to nothing when I heard a sound as if something heavy had been dropped from inside.
I opened the letter box and peered inside. I could see into the hall and the stairs at the back and the organ pipes. Standing on the landing was someone; I could just see his bottom half, his legs wearing a pair of jeans.
"Larry," I called. "Larry, let me in. It's me."
I heard Larry's voice. "Clyde's not in."
"I know that. I want to speak to you. Open the door."
I saw the legs slowly descend the stairs, his body gradually coming into view. Then he stood in the hall, swaying slightly.
"Open the door, Larry," I said.
He started again until his lower body filled the rectangle I was peering through. I heard his fingers fumbling the door latch. He seemed to be having difficulty with it, but then it clicked and the door opened.
Larry looked even worse than he had done the previous time. His face was deathly white and all the fat was lost from his cheeks which sagged in so that I could see the skull underneath. As I went in, he swayed and I caught him feeling the bones of his body like dry sticks which I thought would crack if I held him too firmly. I supported him into the front room, the same one that we'd been in before and helped him down into an armchair. He sagged weakly against the cushions.
"My God, Larry," I said. "You look ghastly. Are you ill?"
"Clyde's looking after me." It was a repeat of what Clyde himself had said and I again felt the menace.
"What's wrong? You need a doctor."
He pulled himself together so that suddenly he looked stronger. "I'm all right," he said. "Clyde gives me my medicine and I feel better. He went out today and forgot it."
"Where is it?" I asked. "Perhaps I could give it to you." I was intrigued. What was this mysterious 'medicine'?
"He hides it, so that I don't take too much."
I began to have suspicions about this so-called 'medicine'. I remembered the previous occasion when Larry had looked so ill, taken his 'medicine' and returned with a liveliness and vivacity which seemed strange as a result of a prescription drug. No doubt there were some that worked like that but I immediately thought of something like crack cocaine.
I'd never tried it myself but someone I knew had described the effect. He said crack cocaine delivers an intensity of pleasure completely outside the normal range of human experience. It offers the most wonderful state of consciousness, and the most intense sense of being alive, the user will ever enjoy. He said it was like an all over body orgasm. He also said it is much more addictive than heroin.
Larry didn't seem to be able to sit still. He entwined his fingers and his eyes glanced from corner to corner of the room as if he was looking for something or someone in the shadows.
Suddenly he almost shouted. "Are you following me?"
"Of course not," I said. "It's just your book. I want it to be a success and the last bit you sent didn't seem to work."
"I didn't send anything," he said.
I'd brought the package with me in my briefcase and I showed it to him.
He looked at it vaguely as if he hadn't seen it before. "Perhaps Clyde sent it," I said.
"If he did, he did it for my benefit."
"But half of it doesn't make sense."
His eyes narrowed. "You've got it in for Clyde, haven't you?"
"You must get rid of him. He's ruining your career." I could have added that, from the look of him, Clyde was killing him.
"Never," he said. "I love him. I will never let him go."
"You must let me help you," I said.
Suddenly he looked ineffably sad. "I know you're trying to help me," he said. "But you won't take Clyde away from me." There was a pause and then he said, "You mustn't come here again."
"Please let me help."
"No. Please go now. Clyde will be back soon and I don't want him to find you here. It upsets him, and then he's unkind."
I was about to protest but realised it was no use.
I left and never saw him again/ Three months later I heard he'd died of a stroke.
* * * * * *
A YEAR LATER
Extract from interview with Clyde Thornton on BBC Radio 4.
"And that was when my novel 'Obsessions' was published and reached and stayed in the Best Seller list for a month. It's the story of but then you won't need to be told what it's about because you'll have read it, and been so impressed by its wit and psychological insight into the human condition etc. etc. etc.
On the strength of its popularity they wanted more of course so they republished that first book of short stories that I'd written three years earlier and then later another anthology entitled 'Larry Spiver and other stories'."
* * * * * *
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Date started: Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Today's date: Monday, March 27, 2006