An excerpt from

The Complete Philip McAlpine Collection

Adam Diment

First my name. Philip McAlpine. I used to work as an industrial security man for a well-known organization which produces shoddy household appliances and which lived under the unoriginal title of British Electric Household Tools. My boss was an ex-Army Intelligence chuck-out called Stafford. I loathed both him and the job, but one has to eat and it wasn’t what they’d call hard graft at BETHT. I was even quite well paid – especially after I had pulled off a little coup for them which took me beyond the bounds of normal industrial loyalty. In fact it damn near got me killed, so to show their gratitude and, I suppose in hope of similar feats in the future, they gave me a fair dip from the till.

A few background details which can also be found lovingly catalogued in the personnel files of BEHT and one of our noble Fatherland’s Security Service archives. I am what they call of middle-class heritage. I went to a middle-grade public school and I was rusticated from a redbrick University for getting a local millionaire’s daughter pregnant. My salary from BEHT was £2500 a year plus £500 expenses, which I didn’t have to account for in detail. (They didn’t like knowing, positively, that I actually went around bribing people.) In addition I have £500 a year from investments signed over to me by my parents, to avoid crippling death duties.

I have a fifteen-year lease on a three-roomed bit of real estate in Hampstead. A number of modish knick-knacks like expensive record players, deep foam, leather hide, swivel, wing-backed chairs, a wall-to-wall white Chinese carpet, floor-to-ceiling bookcase and a small but very good wine stock.

My bedmate of the moment, more, inevitably, of her later, is called Veronica. Veronica Lom.

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I am slightly over six feet tall and weigh between 11 and 12 stone, depending if I am dieting or not. I have fair hair and grey eyes – women do not find me especially attractive.

I have done little basic training in Oriental fighting techniques, which has led me to believe that it is always best to have a gun and keep at least twenty feet from your opponent. Finally I own an MGB sports car and at the time of writing had just regained a pilot’s licence, originally issued in my youth, and which I had allowed to lapse through lack of interest in flying.

The time is 10 am. A foul December day with rain like grey wastewater lashing across London. The year is 1966 and the Hand of Fate, a philosophical concept I hold with nervous contempt, is throwing the Runes of Death for me again.

My overcoat was beaded with raindrops after my dash from the car park. I draped it lovingly over the radiator and prayed the heat wouldn’t ruin its fine PVC sheen. There were three letters in my ‘In’ tray and a little pink card slap in the centre of my desk. I knew it to be a message from my dear old boss. He always writes everything on pink cards.

From The Dolly Dolly Spy (1967)