When Martin arrived in Las Vegas in ‘The Protocols of Carstairs‘ I figured he’d need some help. I wasn’t quite sure how he’d be helping Omar and Asim yet, but an idea might surface while he updated a new ally. It often does.
So, who to send? Caroline? I love writing Caroline, but she’s unlikely to be at ease in a sleazy town like Las Vegas. Besides, it seemed about time for Kate to make an appearance. And so I wrote the scene of her arrival, but after about ten pages I gave up. Kate presents various problems, the main one being that Martin will ALWAYS do as she asks. (The reason for this will be revealed in another book, but let’s just say he is compelled to do so, even though both are unaware of this phenomenon. Guess who isn’t?) If he obeys Kate, what would be Kate’s reason to allow him to stay?
Another problem was that it was unlikely that Kate would be a good navigator in Las Vegas. She’s extraordinary, but Vegas is not her turf. A third reason was that Martin was supposed to be a spy, but at that point he’d had help from Caroline, Peter and even his own father. His sister showing up to help him out would be the bloody limit.
And so I decided to pull that scene: Martin would just have to make it on his own. But as so often happens: if you just start writing, you’ll suddenly read the solution back on your screen. If you’ve read ‘Protocols’ you’ll know who actually came, but here’s the scene with Kate. Martin has just had his first night in Las Vegas, after a harrowing trip during which he was almost unmasked.
Oh, Kate will be doing some sort of mind-reading thing. It didn’t really pan out how I envisaged it. Just ignore that bit. – RD
A few seconds after I opened my eyes, my room phone rang. I picked up, couldn’t remember my room number and found my tongue glued to the roof of my mouth.
“Ung…thif iw… uuuuhr… Yes?” I grunted.
“Hello, it’s me,” said K-T.
Oh, not that sodding car again!
“What do you want?!” I asked, dismayed to find no bottle of water nearby.
“Say again!?” was the incredulous answer. I hoisted myself up against the pillow. Was this bloody iPad on wheels calling to complain about being left behind at the palace? Did she need another hand wash?
“Why… Why are you calling me? I’m in fucking LAS VEGAS, okay? Give me a BREAK!”
“I’m aware. That’s why I am here, too.”
“You’re HERE?! How the.. how the hell did you manage THAT?”
“By airplane, obviously. I’m at the airport. I can see your hotel from here.”
She sounded rather curt.
“A plane? What… some sort of cargo plane, I assume?”
“A cargo plane?!”
“Yes. I don’t imagine you fit in the hold, do you? I mean, you’re a bit of a low ride, but…”
She fell silent for second. That often happened, as she tried to parse what I had said.
“I am coming over. Be ready in about fifteen minutes,” she said.
“Sure. Whatever. Just park anywhere. I’ll let you know.”
She hung up. I stared at the handset for a second. Why the hell had my bloody car followed me all the way here? She couldn’t possibly have done that by herself. There’s no such thing as a car ferry for planes, and even if there was I’m sure unattended vehicles with ghost drivers wouldn’t be allowed. Had MI6 arranged this? Oh, who the fuck cares. I needed a shower.
I showered quickly, keen to seek out a proper breakfast before this day would unload the usual barrage of terror and inconvenience on me, when the doorbell rang. Large suites have doorbells. They have to, because they’re so large the occupants would never hear you knocking from the other side. I was just doing up my necktie, ready to head out.
“Yes?” I asked, standing behind the door and buttoning my cufflinks. There came no answer. I half-remembered an MI6 protocol about this, so I stood to the side of the door and held my room key in front of the spy hole. This would block the light coming in, so that the person on the other side would know someone was peering through. If they were going to shoot through the door, they’d aim for the spy hole or thereabouts. If I’m honest I did not believe for a second anyone was here to shoot me, but Asim would have simply shouted at me through the door and I wasn’t expecting a visitor.
There came a more urgent knock. I threw caution to the wind and peered through the keyhole. A short but nicely proportioned strawberry blonde dressed in business attire, carrying a small rucksack, stood almost against the opposite wall. I couldn’t see her very well because I wasn’t wearing my reading glasses. And so I opened the door, slightly annoyed.
“Are you alone?” asked Kate. My spine didn’t so much tingle as judder. Parts of my brain that had been dormant for weeks lit up like a Christmas tree. Kate!
“What are YOU doing here?” I stammered.
“Are. You. Alone?” she repeated.
“Yes! Come in!”
She did, by opening her arms and running into me. The rucksack dropped to the ground just behind the door. Due to our difference in height Kate generally doesn’t hug me around my neck when we’re both standing, but around my chest.
“Hi big guy! Oooofff… I missed this. Oh man, I really missed this.”
I looked at the top of her head. Was this a wig?
“Do you have any idea what I’d like to do to you right now?” she asked.
“I can… guess… Pfff… You’re… squeezing me…” I spluttered, because she was.
She reached behind her and shut the door.
“Pussy. But that will have to wait. We’re in a hurry.”
“Kate, what the… What are you doing here?”
She looked up and snarled.
“What do you mean? I just CALLED you! I said I’d come over!”
“Was… was that you?”
Her jaw dropped and her scowl turned into a mixture of worry and surprise.
“Martin? I though you were acting funny on the phone. What’s wrong? You really don’t recognise me?”
“Well… You’re… blonde now! That’s been a while. And what’s with the… the outfit! I don’t think I’ve ever seen you dressed like that.”
Dutch has a perfectly simple compound word for a female business suit: ‘mantelpakje’. Clear as day. Sadly, for some reason I’ve decided to write my diary in English and now I’m stuck with it, grasping for words and forced to used elaborate descriptions for the simplest things. It’s that whole ‘Darmok at Tanagra. Shakra. When the walls fell,’ thing for me, sometimes.
Anyway, Kate was wearing a slate grey blazer and matching skirt, flesh-coloured pantyhose, very sensible shoes with only slightly elevated heels and a white blouse. A white and pink scarf added a little bit of colour. Her hair was now quite light, which I always think of as her real colour because most caucasian toddlers are light-haired for the first couple of years, but it isn’t. It’s auburn. I think. But rather than her usual head of curls it was now all business: pulled back, with a ponytail. And quite a long one, too. But obviously the freckles were still there, and those mesmerizing eyes.
“Yeah, I hate it. I look like a wet lease stewardess,” she muttered. “But with this outfit I can go pretty much anywhere. You on the other hand… Where were you off to, dressed like that?”
“Breakfast. But don’t distract me: why in God’s name are you here?”
“Martin, I came to help. Let’s go back to ten seconds ago, when you were surprised to see me even though we JUST spoke on the phone. That worries me. First you insult me by saying I’m short and fat, and then you forget we even spoke!?”
“Oh, that! I thought you were my car. Which is heavy, and short. I mean low. I mean it’s a sports car. With a battery. I’d never…”
Kate took my hand, squeezed it to shut me up and guided me to the nearest chair, which was quite a walk. She made me sit down and seemed to briefly consider sitting on my lap, before she settled on the corner of a coffee table.
“A car. You thought you were talking to your… Oh my God, you’re not even kidding.”
“I told you, didn’t I? In a letter. I have a car and it sounds like you! Caroline arranged that.”
“Yes, you did tell me that. I’m sure it says all sorts of things, like ‘buckle up’ and ‘check tyre pressure’, but does it CALL you? On the PHONE?”
“Incessantly! It thinks it’s my secretary or something. And I’m pretty sure Caroline can track it, to see where I am. I was only just awake when you called. I thought the damned thing had driven itself onto a cargo plane and followed me here.”
Kate shook her head.
“Amazing. I’ve never heard of a car that can do that. I mean, they’re quite clever these days, the Teslas and all that. But they don’t talk.”
“This one won’t fucking stop. In YOUR voice.”
“Okay, if you say so. If you’re not mad. Which I’m not convinced you’re not, by the way. So which name are you using right now?”
“Oh, pick one. Except my real name, of course. Right now I’m my own doppelgänger.”
Kate snickered. She’s not one of those people who needs to hear weird things twice.
“Amazing. So it worked.”
“Yes. You mean the digital version of me, right? Worked a treat. Under normal circumstances I’d be livid that you’re making virtual puppets of me, but right now I’m glad you did.”
“That was Peter. He did the performance, I mean. We had fifteen minutes to prepare for that, in a Boston hotel room. I painted white tracking dots on his face. Winston ran the rendering software from London. We used my laptop as a camera.”
“Peter did great. He does my voice very well, by the way.”
“No, he doesn’t. I mean, he does the inflexions and all that. But the voice is digital, like the image. There was a slight delay, but everyone expects that via Skype. If the link had cut out, the animation would have continued to just sit there, blinking and breathing and pretending to deal with a signal failure. Still, Peter was sweating buckets. I was afraid the markers would get rinsed off.”
“Well, it was remarkable. Why were you two in Boston, by the way?”
“I’ve been stuck in sodding Boston for the last two weeks, assisting Peter while he’s temporarily in charge of (THAT TICKET COMPANY I MADE UP). Which was supposed to have been YOUR job. God, do you have any idea how ticked off Caroline is with me?”
“Yes. Apparently this is all on me, for allowing you to go to Saudi.”
“How is that YOUR fault?!”
“Christ knows, but she seems to think so. She said I could have stopped you. Remember that dinner party when she left in a huff?”
“Vaguely. You said I’d be back in a week.”
“Yeah… I lost that bet, obviously. I’ve been mushroomed ever since.”
“Kept in the dark and fed shit. I had no idea how you were doing, apart from our messages and that one time she made me call you to update you on the Dr. Who thing. Hang on, didn’t you confuse me with your car then, too?”
“Yes. Again, sorry.”
“I’ll stop saying ‘hi, it’s me’ and say something like: ‘This your flesh and blood sister speaking, please do not insult me.’”
“Don’t. Don’t say out loud that you’re my sister, I mean. Nothing good can come of that. Hey, how’d you know I was here?”
“Ha! Imagine for a second that you’re a little faggot in a supposedly straight boy band, always sneaking out to suck the biggest, blackest dicks out there. Preferably dipped in cocaine. Now if I can find THAT cocksucker without fail, I can sure as hell track YOU down. You’re on the front page of two major newspapers in the UK today and about as ubiquitous on the internet as the Facebook ‘like’ button. Oh man, the shitstorm we’ve had to weather since they found out you were missing… Unreal. Never seen anything like that. That’s why we set up your digital copy. Thank God there’s about a hundred hours of high quality audio from your voice-over work available. We were about to do a series of interviews, but now you can do them your own damned self. Starting today, as soon as we land.”
“Los Angeles. I know it’s the wrong way, but Phil has been lying his tuches off to cover for you on social media, so the least we can do is bring him in on your press conference.”
“PRESS CONFERENCE?! I’m undercover! I’m not doing any bloody…”
Kate laughed. Normally her laugh is very pleasant, but this was just pure sarcasm.
“Undercover? You’re going home, big boy. Game over. Now, who are you here with?”
“Prince Asim and princess Alexandra, plus two body guards. Well, security. I’m not sure if those guys would actually take a bullet for anyone.”
“And where are they?”
“Second floor. Of this hotel, not the one underneath. Asim went out yesterday so I don’t think he’ll be up before noon. And Alexandra is confined to her room.”
“Why? What’d she do?”
“She has two X-chromosomes, but no Y. That’s grounds for detention in Saudi. But Kate, listen, I know it’s a bit weird that I’ve been outed, but I think I can pull it off. They actually think I’m my own doppelgänger, so I’m pretending that I’m embarrassed and angry about being mistaken for Martin King.”
“That won’t last. Look, we are leaving. Pack up your stuff, you got five minutes. Go.”
I got up and walked to the bedroom. She followed me there.
“But Kate, there’s been a new development. I need to talk to someone from the CIA. Or even MI6, even though they’re useless.”
“Talk to them from home. Or Phil’s house, whatever. Listen, this is a direct order, from me to you. I want you to come with me. Do you understand?”
“Yes. Okay, I’ll need my laptop and the charger. And then…”
Kate opened my closet.
“I’ll do it. I’m faster. Just one suitcase?”
“I packed in a hurry.”
“Is that why there is no leisure wear here?” she asked, rapidly arranging my clothes inside the suitcase, which the butler had set out on a small folding stool inside the spacious closet. Kate could give masterclasses in packing. She makes the art of origami look as subtle as monster truck racing. That’s why she secretly enjoys it when customs officers unpack her suitcase and then discover they’d need at least two suitcases to repack. Kate then invariably makes a meal of repacking everything herself, occupying the checkpoint for as long as she can.
“I don’t really own any leisure clothes at the moment. How is Melody? And Edwin?”
“You spoke to mum and dad, didn’t you? Less than two days ago, I believe.”
“Yes. They weren’t exactly overflowing with information and they only had two pictures of Edwin for me. Only TWO! Have you got anything on your phone?”
“I do. Hundreds of pictures, dozens of videos. So did mum, but she somehow managed to fuck up her WhatsApp account. Turns out she never saves anything to the camera roll.”
“I know. They’re getting old, Kate. Say, can I have a look at those photos?”
“Oh, sure! WHEN WE’RE AIRBORNE. Okay, I assume you’ll want your laptop as a carry-on?”
“Probably for the best.”
“Why’d you even bring one? It’s not as if you ever, say, send me a fucking email.”
“I interrogated an imam and filmed his confession. The footage is on that machine. I still have to edit it and put it online, but that’ll have to wait until I’m home. Those slippers are from the hotel, I don’t want them… Kate, what’s wrong?”
Kate almost dropped my laptop and sat down on the bed.
“You… interrogated an imam?”
“Yes. It’s not a problem! He’s dead now. Trash compactor. Pfzt.”
I mimed squashing something. That only seemed to upset her more.
“Oh! No, I didn’t stuff him in alive. Goodness, no! He asphyxiated on the way there. I wrapped him up in plastic. Kate… Kate, sweetheart, you’re crying!”
“So it’s true, then…” she sniffed. “You have been on a rampage…”
“Well, rampage is perhaps too strong a term.”
“I briefly spoke to dad. He was very upset after he’d visited you in prison. Didn’t want to talk. And I overheard Caroline talking to Peter about you. ‘Rampage’ is the word she used. They stopped talking as soon as they knew I was around. Martin, what exactly have you done?”
“Well, by all accounts I stopped a bunch of terror attacks across Europe and one in the US. That doesn’t happen by asking nicely, sweetheart.”
“So you interrogated a man and killed him. Just one?”
“Look, shouldn’t we be going? I suppose you have a jet waiting?”
“No, I came here on a regular flight from Boston. Martin, I want to know what you’ve been up to.”
“Kate, sweetheart… You won’t like it. And if I have to tell you, I may as well do it on a plane.”
“Oh, NOW you’re in a hurry to leave! Five minutes ago you were on your way to breakfast! In fact, why did you spend the night here at all?”
“Because… There’s unfinished business. Or new business, to be precise. I figured I’d stick around, learn a bit more.”
Kate stood back, put on a haughty face and poked my chest with her finger.
“For you, zee vor is OVAH!” she said, in a mock German accent.
And that did it: I collapsed to my knees, laughing in a way I hadn’t laughed in months. Kate can usually keep a straight face, but she can’t really keep that up when I have a full belly-laugh and so she sat down on the bed and joined in. I don’t look particularly dignified when I laugh, sad to say. I’ve avoided comedy TV-recordings in the past, fearing that I’d become a laughing stock if the camera caught me at a bad time. My voice raises about two octaves and I immediately break out in a sweat. Picture Mr. Snuffleupagus having a seizure and you get the general idea. But that’s fine, because I was with Kate and she couldn’t care less. Her laugh is excellent, of course. And it’s not easily won, either. Her smile is, but not her actual laugh.
We were at it for at least five minutes. The actual joke was soon forgotten, but we kept setting each other off. At one point I tried to sit on the bed, but I just slid off again. My jaw hurt, too. Thankfully her phone rang, so she legged it out of the room and answered after way too many rings. I couldn’t hear her conversation, but took the opportunity to calm myself down and perform a damage assessment in the bathroom. At least my hair never gets messed up, and my face would probably have its usual hue soon enough. Perhaps a fresh shirt might be a good idea. I took off my jacket and unbuttoned my shirt, splashed some water on my face and grinned at Kate through the mirror as she came in.
“I’ll just change my shirt and then I’m good to go.”
She just nodded and stared at something. She then popped out and came back with my toiletries bag.
“Hair. Ears. Disgusting. Sit.”
I sat down on the edge of the bath as she grabbed my ears and used tweezers to pluck the hair from the top of my ears. That’s a type of maintenance I can’t really manage myself, sadly.
“Oh, it’s growing IN your ear as well now!” she said, as if it were my fault. Have you ever noticed it changes from day to day which ear hurts the most? In this case my left ear didn’t feel a thing, but when she got started on the other side, it felt as if those hairs had taken root in the base of my spine. She seemed to enjoy torturing me, but I really enjoyed being so close to her, having her loom over me and smelling almonds. That’s Kate’s smell. I cannot abide it anywhere else, unless I’ve had a chance to brace myself (so thankfully I can cook with almonds and almond oil) but if it catches me unawares it depends on the mood I’m in: either I become angry because I miss her, or I go to pieces because I miss her too much. Because it’s always one of the two with me.
“AUW!” I yelped, when she got started on my eyebrows. Some really nasty white hairs had begun to appear there. Those white fuckers are like fiberglass.
“Shut up. Women do this every day.”
“I know. Hey, where are your curls?”
“Hiding under two applications of gel. Don’t worry: I only need to take a shower and they’re back. This is practically a helmet by now.”
“Straight hair doesn’t suit you. HNNNG.”
“That was a nasty one. Nearly done. Yeah I know you hate it when my hair is straight. But it practically turns me invisible. I didn’t know what I was walking into.”
“How did you find out the room number?”
“I got behind the reception desk and looked you up. It’s not THAT hard. Did have to try three names, though.”
“Yes. I look like I work here. Or anywhere, really. Girl next to me didn’t even look up.”
“Amazing. I never get away with stuff like that. And I’m supposed to be the spy.”
Kate punched my shoulder. When she does, she does not hold back.
“NO. You are supposed to be a father, a husband, a son and a brother! I honestly thought you’d be back inside a week. I mean, what in Christ’s name is WRONG with you? If I had to describe you in one word it would be ‘family man’. SHIT! That’s two words. But that is what you are. How the hell does a guy like you leave his entire family, including his infant son, behind for MONTHS?! How does that work? Tell me that, because I have been going fucking MENTAL over that one.”
“Kate, I was protecting you. All of you.”
“By buggering off? What, were you going to kill every single mozzie on the planet?”
“Not the… not the children,” I muttered.
“Oh, HAA-HAAH! Now you’re making jokes?”
She splayed the fingers of her right hand and pushed my sternum. Under normal circumstances you have to be a seven foot cage fighter in a meth induced rage for that to work with me, but this was Kate and so I staggered backwards. How did she suddenly get so angry?
“You weren’t trying to protect us. That is a story you need to tell yourself. You’re paying a debt, Martin. That is why you’re here. Well, not HERE, but THERE. Get on the bed. NOW!”
“Kate, this is not…”
She swiped at my leg with the pointed toe of her shoe, which I narrowly avoided.
“Get on! On your back. I’m going to get some answers out of you.”
I sat on the edge and dropped to my back, so my feet still touched the ground. Even in a room that was around four thousand dollars per night (or so I thought at the time: it was actually 11,000 dollars) I would not place my shoes on the bed. Kate kicked hers off and jumped on.
“You’re crumpling your jacket,” she grunted. “Take it off. And your necktie. This would work best if we were naked, but that’s too risky now. Come on, come on, come on!”
“Is this really necessary?” I asked, undoing my tie.
“Turns out it is,” said Kate, also shedding her jacket. And then she bossed me around until I ended up with my head in her lap. Her hands gently cupped my face.
“How are you?” she asked, now sounding calm again.
“Don’t speak. Just lay there, listen to me and shut the fuck up. Now… how are you?”
She stared at me, which was odd because from this angle her face seemed upside down. It’s still a lovely face, but I prefer her the other way around.
“I’m fine,” I whispered after five awkward seconds. “AUCH! FUCK!”
She had twisted my ear. Or nearly wrenched it off, to be precise.
“I said shut up! I mean it. Don’t talk. Can you do that?”
“Don’t nod. Just stay still. Jesus, how hard is this?”
I nearly said ‘sorry’ but not even I am that persistent.
“How are you doing?” she asked. I thought of home. Of Edwin. He could probably walk unaided by now, and go around corners. I wondered if he was already stringing words together. Two was the record when I’d left for Doha. Mel kept a log, but there comes a point when they just go too fast.
“Do you miss home?” she asked, and very briefly tugged my ear as a warning when my lips parted. I was going to say I missed home a lot, and tried not to think of it. The books were a good distraction. Professor Rasul had left me a really nice collection. Well, ‘left me’ wasn’t the right word. You can’t inherit from someone you’ve killed, probably.
After a minute or so, question three came along:
“Are you in physical pain?”
Don’t get me started. I was stiff as a board most of the time. Not just from that long trip, but in general. Swimming helps, but I never seemed to get around to it. And walking around with several sets of glasses was annoying, too: I had my real reading glasses, which I needed to read actual books. I was generally still okay with phone displays and tablets, if the brightness was set high enough and the font could be enlarged 10 or 20 percent. But then I also had my ‘disguise’ glasses, which were fake. They actually muddled my long distance vision, but I could keep them on all day. I took them off when I drove, at which point I’d switch to regular if expensive sunglasses.
I missed question four, but as I wasn’t supposed to answer them and preferred to come out of this with both ears still attached, I didn’t tell Kate and she didn’t seem to mind.
“How do you sleep?”
Oh, like a log. Most nights, anyway. I brush my teeth, take my malaria tablet, briefly consider and then generally dismiss the idea of having a wank, stagger into bed and I’m out. But it’s not good sleep, really. It’s deep and dark and I often wake up sweaty, and in a cramped position. Some nights I kick off the blanket. But not even the most fervent calls to prayer wake me up, which is convenient. Still, it’s nothing like going to sleep beside Melody. She’d love to sleep hand in hand, a romantic notion people tend to shed after their first sleepover but which she clings on to. And so we hold hands for two to three minutes, until something needs scratching or one of us really needs to turn to one side. Mel is beautiful all over, but her coffee-coloured back is so smooth and tapers off to her hips in ways you usually only see in heavily photoshopped mattress adverts. I usually can’t resist spooning her, at which point she’ll face me and give me smile that instantly jolts my dick into action. These days we’re always too tired to do something about it, but we’ve fallen asleep often enough with my boner resting comfortably in the cleavage of her bum and my lips nuzzling her shoulder.
I dozed off for a minute or so, but then Kate seemed satisfied. I don’t go in for all that mystical stuff, but Kate does. She says she can see my aura. Those don’t exist, but I am nowhere near brave enough to point that out to her.
“Off you go,” she said. I sat up and redid my necktie.
“One day you’re going to have to tell me what the bloody point of that was.”
“No, I won’t. Okay, let’s scoot. I haven’t booked a ticket yet. There are flights to Los Angeles almost hourly, or maybe I’ll take you to the East Coast. You haven’t been on Letterman in a while, although it would be nice to give Graham McAfee first dibs.”
She got up, finished packing my suitcase and closed it. I picked it up, checked the room for only the seventh time or so and then we stepped into the corridor. Kate carried her backpack over her shoulder.
“Straight to the airport,” she said.
“Oh, shame. I wanted to have a little flutter on the roulette wheel.”
She snorted. I have no interest whatsoever in gambling. No mathematician does, unless he’s thinking about ways to cheat the house out of its advantage. But to be honest, I didn’t even know how to play most games. Take poker: you need about six or seven people for a proper game. I’ve never had that many friends, if I’m honest. Not even while I was at university. One of the reasons (of many) was that I was already living in Leiden, so I never lived in student housing. I also never joined a fraternity, as those are all about drinking and I’m not. They also have hazing rituals that border on human rights abuse. Fuck that noise, seriously.
“Have you ever done that?” she asked, conversationally. The lift was waiting for us.
“Nope. And I hope I never will,” I said, and pushed the Ground Floor button.
“You’re an unspeakably dull man, Martin.”
“So people keep telling me.”
As the doors opened and we walked into the lobby I said:
“Okay, I’ll swing by the checkout desk.”
“Gimme your suitcase, I’ll find us a cab,” said Kate. I don’t normally let girls carry my luggage, but she had already grabbed it and besides, it wasn’t too heavy. There’s gallantry and then there’s treating women like paraplegics. I walked up to the front desk. It was very crowded outside, which is odd for a Four Seasons. There were throngs of people standing on the sidewalk, some dressed very peculiarly. Gloved hotel employees kept them away from the red carpet. Some people seemed to be holding up a sign, but for a protest the atmosphere seemed very convivial.
As I waited in line at the checkout desk, José came up to me. He looked relieved to see me.
“Oh, Mr. King, you’re here! Wonderful! Will you speak to them?”
He gestured to the people outside.
“They showed up fifteen minutes ago. Four busses. I hear there are two more on the way. We can set something up in the conference room, but there may be too many of them.”
“Who are those people? And what the… I mean, how are they MY problem?”
“They’re fans, Mr. King!”
“Fans?! My fans don’t look like that! My fans are in their late seventies and wear incontinence diapers.”
“But… I spoke to them. They’re here because they read about your arrival here last night.”
I started backing away, which is an odd thing to do in a hotel lobby.
“I have no idea who these people are. If I have any fans it’s in the UK, not here. Certainly not four busloads. Is there another exit I could use?”
At that point the doorman opened the door for Asim, who had walked the red carpet with a wide grin on his face. He wore Western clothes. Alexandra followed him. She was dressed far more traditionally, but her headscarf was draped only very loosely around her black, curly hair.
“CARSTAIRS! This is amazing! All these people for you!” he said, walking up to us and shaking José’s hand. Alexandra stood behind Asim, but seemed to be looking at the crowd.
“Hi, José! Carstairs, this is the manager.”
“We’ve met. Your Royal Highness, I assure you I have NOTHING to do with all this.”
“José, excuse us for a second?” said Asim. José briefly dipped his head and stepped back. Asim put one arm around me and walked me to a potted plant near a marble pillar. I have no idea why, because we could still be seen and probably heard by everyone.
“Carstairs!” he whispered, still grinning. “They think you are Martin King, remember?”
“Sir, Martin King is not THAT popular!”
“No? But he is going to be the next Doctor Who. You know Doctor Who?”
“I… do…” I sighed. Christ alive… Was THAT was this was about?
“Martin King will play him next, I hear. They want to meet you! Well, not YOU, but Martin King. Maybe this is a good opportunity to practice!”
“Practice what, Sir?”
“Being him! Won’t that be fun? We can get the best seats everywhere! VIP treatment!”
“Sir, you get that anyway.”
“No! I get the rich VIP treatment. I pay for it! But Martin King is a movie star, Carstairs! That’s different! He doesn’t pay for it. He gets respect!”
“Does he now…”
“Yes! So go out there and talk to them, shake hands, have some fun! If they believe you are the real Martin King, we can have a great time here! Ha! ALEXANDRA! Come here! Don’t you think it is a good idea if Mr. Carstairs pretends to be Martin King for a few days? Huh? Ha!”
“Yes!” said Alexandra, but her grin was more one of disdain. Imagine the look of a thirteen year old girl who is asked if she thinks it is a good idea if her teacher volunteers to be dunked in a pool filled with custard. To her, I was just another dusty old teacher. A nicer one than his predecessor, but a teacher nonetheless.
“Excuse me! Mr. Carstairs?” said a very firm voice. Kate strode towards us, with my suitcase. There was something odd about her gaze. She put down the suitcase and extended her hand.
“Kate Castle, senior asset manager at Keller & Fox. You may recall we’ve met?”
I shook her hand and didn’t have to pretend being dumbstruck. What was she going to do?
“Hello… Yes, I remember you,” I said, somewhat timidly.
“Good. Because you didn’t last time. And the time before that. Anyway, I was dispatched by our London office. Sorry, who are you?” she asked of Asim, in a tone of voice that implied ‘nobody and I’ll fuck right off’ would be her preferred answer.
“Miss Castle, this is His Royal Highness prince Asim bin…”
“Asim! Hello, nice to meet you!” said Asim, turning on the charm. He even offered his hand, because Asim has no qualms treating Western women different from Saudi women. “How wonderful that you are here to help us! May I also introduce my niece, princess Alexandra. She is Mr. Carstairs’s student and I am his friend. Salaam Aleikum, as we say in Saudi Arabia. I imagine Miss Keller sent you here?”
“She did,” said Kate, who pretended to warm to Asim. “But why are you expecting my help?”
“Because Mr. Carstairs will be Mr. King today, of course!” beamed Asim. “Which is good for your company, because the real Mr. King is… busy right now. Isn’t he? Working on his health?”
Kate looked at me.
“So, I take it he knows about everything?”
“He was there when Miss Keller arranged a video conversation to clear up a misunderstanding regarding my identity.”
“What’s your room number?”
“Your ROOM NUMBER. It’s by the door, on a little placard. As this is the fanciest place in town, I assume you’re in a suite. I want them to send up my suitcase and then we can go outside and deal with this crowd,” said Kate.
“Good. Sir! Excuse me? This suitcase to five-oh-one, please. I’ll register in a minute. Let’s take care of this crowd first. I assume you want them gone as soon as possible?”
“Yes, please!” said José, and gestured at a bellboy to come and take away Kate’s… I mean MY suitcase. Asim wasn’t even looking at it and I’m sure he wouldn’t have recognised it as mine anyway. José seemed very pleased someone was willing to take care of this mess. Regular guests didn’t like being scrutinised by a large crowd as they emerged from their limousines.
“Do you have a garden area where we can address them?” asked Kate.
“Yes! Yes, just around the corner. I’ll open the gate! We have a little cupola there. I will have a microphone set up. Oh, thank you! Please, make them go away!”
Kate was being Kate from Keller & Fox. I don’t often see that side of her. Asim, Alexandra and I were waiting behind a dainty cupola in a landscaped garden that had all of its grass replaced by pebbles. This was a token gesture to saving water from the hotel, because although growing grass in Las Vegas required a lot of water and is therefore discouraged, running a hotel with a few thousand showers, a few hundred bathtubs , a dozen fountains and six pools uses a hell of a lot more. The garden still looked nice, though. It did have hedges and sculpted topiary, although all of it was mostly just something to look at from the people having coffee in the lobby. Still, there was enough standing room for about five hundred well-behaved if rather eccentric Dr. Who fans.
A gardener appeared with a microphone on a stand and a spool of cable. He set it all up, tapped the microphone and we all heard his tapping via small green speakers hidden in the bushes. He then nodded to Kate and went back inside.
“Hi guys, how is everybody doing?!” asked Kate. The crowd cheered.
“Great! So I guess the secret is out, huh?”
Laughter. And relief, probably. Some of these people had come from quite far away, and at no small expense. And for what? To see a man who MIGHT one day play Dr. Who?
“So my name is Sarah, I’m the publicity manager for… the man you’re about to meet. He’s been very quiet lately, working on an exiting new project!”
Polite applause and whooping.
“That… he can’t tell you anything about. But I’m sure you won’t take my word for it so…”
While Kate chatted with the audience and tried to shape their expectations, I was standing between Asim and Alexandra. I was already doing a fair bit of acting, pretending to be quite upset about this.
“But what do I do when they find out I’m not him?” I said, trying to sound afraid.
“Carstairs, how could they?” said Asim, as he patted my back. “You look so much like him! You sound like him! And he WANTS you to pretend he is him, so it’s not even lying!”
“Professor, you’ll be fine. Just chat with them. Sometimes you’re very funny,” said Alexandra.
“I don’t know, I think this is a terrible idea,” I mumbled, eying the gate we’d passed through after everyone had been invited to step into the garden. So far, nobody from the crowd had seen me.
“Carstairs, you weren’t nervous when you were singing on Omar’s yacht! Why are you nervous now? You can do this!”
“Because back then I wasn’t about to commit identity fraud!” I hissed.
“Think of it as acting,” suggested Alexandra.
“I can’t act! That’s it, I’m leaving. This is a terrible idea.”
I headed for the gate and as expected, Asim grabbed my arm. Even Alexandra moved in to stop me.
“Carstairs, no! You can do this! It’s FUN! You’re British. Use your wit!”
“… BIG HAND FOR THE ONE… THE ONLY… MISTER MARTIN KIIIIIIIING!” bellowed Kate, who apparently had decided to go by Sarah for the occasion. Asim spun me round and practically frogmarched me to the steps that lead to the stage. If indeed a cupola can be called that. Come to think of it, ‘band stand’ might be a better description, if the band is no larger than about four people.
Kate stayed put, ready to serve as a moderator. I had no idea why she was making me do this. Weren’t we supposed to flee? But Kate gets what she wants, from me at least, and so I smiled timidly and said ‘Hello everyone’ into the microphone. People cheered and applauded. Then I took a step back, as if that was it. Alexandra and Asim had circled round a shrub and joined the crowd from the side. Asim took out his phone and started filming.
Kate took the mic from the stand and asked the crowd:
“Is that enough? Can we all go home now?”
“NOOOOOH!” they all yelled.
“No? Why is that? Any questions?” asked Kate, playing them like a flute. (She actually plays the flute. Well, she used to. The recorder, in middle school.)
“Okay, then maybe Martin will take a few questions! Where to start… You! The guy with the suspiciously long scarf! Come up and introduce yourself!”
A tall guy in his late teens, dressed like Tom Baker’s Dr. Who, stepped up, solicited a cheer from the crowd and was very eager to take Kate’s microphone off her, shake my hand and take over the interview. She let him.
“So Mr. King, I’m Matthew Marshall from right here in Spring Valley, I really loved your work in Fatherland… right?”
The crowd cheered. Kate pushed me nearer to Matthew.
“And when we heard you might be the new Dr. Who I gotta be honest with you, we were STOKED!”
The crowd confirmed this.
“We were like YEAH! We WANT this! So I guess, ah, my question to you is: what’s up? When is this happening?”
Kate took the mic from him and held it in front of me. I was still pretending to be nervous.
“Sorry. Well, Matthew, uhm… thank you. I am… glad to be here, obviously. But uhm… in regards to your question I uhm… there is really not much to say. I’m aware of the poll on the internet, I’m flattered, obviously, but other than that I have not… been in contact with the producers of Dr. Who. At all.”
That elicited some booing, but the mood was friendly. After all, I couldn’t be held responsible for not having been offered a role.
“So I… I… I’m very sorry you’ve come out today just for this. I’m not sure what you were expecting to find, but… it’s just me and I’m not in any kind of negotiations to play Dr. Who.”
“So why ARE you here?” asked Matthew, who didn’t need a mic to be heard.
“Well, uhm… I’m just… I’m just here with… friends. Sightseeing.”
I vaguely pointed in the direction of Asim, who gave me a thumbs up from behind his phone.
“So if they ASK…” said Matthew, “WILL you DO it?”
I didn’t think it was the absolute best time to let the world know I don’t give a shit about Dr. Who and that I’d sooner play Dr. Teeth (from the Electric Mayhem) or even Dr. Huxtable (which might involve either some serious CGI or some shoe polish), so I said:
“Well, if the call comes, then of course I would be a fool not to answer!”
And that seemed to be enough for them. Matthew screamed so loud he nearly ruptured my eardrum. I was ready to turn around and leg it, but then the audience began to scream questions like ‘who is your favourite doctor’ and ‘what is your favourite episode’ and Kate cut that short.
“GUYS! GUYS! QUIET PLEASE! Guys, listen, we’re not at Comicon NOW, okay? You asked to see the man, he came, he answered your question and there is NO NEWS. If there is, you’ll be the first to know. Now I need to all to get the f… to leave this garden or the hotel is gonna call the cops on you, okay? You’re in Vegas, I’m sure you’ll find something to do. Come one, scoot! No autographs, the man is on VACATION for Pete’s sake!”
Hotel security appeared at the back of the crowd and with calm smiles gently ushered them out. Half a dozen people shook hands with me but then I hid behind Kate. Asim and Alexandra joined us again and after the gate closed, we used the coffee shop entrance to get back inside.
“Thank you! Thank you so much!” said José. “We had no idea they were coming!”
“Neither did we,” said Kate. “But it’s been taken care of.”
This is the end of the deleted scene: ‘Kate comes to Las Vegas’. If you’ve read The Protocols of Carstairs you’ll know Kate didn’t show up, although Martin does interact with some Dr. Who fans later on. I hope you found this scene enjoyable. It contains a few jokes I couldn’t recycle for the new version. If you haven’t yet bought The Protocols of Carstairs or the follow-up, The Arabian Aftermath, I invite you to purchase them right now.
Chapter one of The Protocols of Carstairs is also available as a free, 89 minute audio book!