Dark Hunger

Page 27

Where’s Tanner in all this?

Hovering, I suspect, somewhere on the edge of thought. And then in 1962, I was back in Buffalo with a wife and a daughter and another daughter on the way, and two facts, apparently unrelated, came to my attention, one right after the other.

Fact One: It is apparently possible for certain rare individuals to live without sleep.

Fact Two: Two hundred fifty years after the death of Queen Anne, the last reigning monarch of the House of Stuart, there was still (in the unlikely person of a German princeling) a Stuart pretender to the English throne.

I picked up the first fact in an article on sleep in Time magazine, the second while browsing the Encyclopaedia Britannica. They seemed to go together, and I found myself thinking of a character whose sleep center had been destroyed, and who consequently had an extra eight hours in the day to contend with. What would he do with the extra time? Well, he could learn languages. And what passion would drive him? Why, he’d be plotting and scheming to oust Betty Battenberg, the Hanoverian usurper, and restore the Stuarts to their rightful place on the throne of England.

I put the idea on the back burner, and then I must have unplugged the stove, because it was a couple of more years before Tanner was ready to be born. By then a Stuart restoration was just one of his disparate passions. He was to be a champion of lost causes and irredentist movements, and I was to write eight books about him.

If you’ve been picking up these splendid new editions of the Tanner books as they appear, and if you’ve been reading not only the books themselves but these self-indulgent afterwords of mine, and if (finally) you’ve the sort of old-trunk-in-the-attic memory that retains trivial information, then you may recall that the book immediately preceding this one, Tanner’s Twelve Swingers, was begun in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and completed in Dublin.

When it was finished, I sent it off to my agent and returned the typewriter to the firm around the corner from whom I’d rented it. I’d landed in Dublin in mid-January, and it was the middle of February when I set out to see the country.

I’d been to Ireland once before, and had felt a strong immediate connection to the country. I thought I might like to live there, and knew that one thing I didn’t want to do, not for a while, was go back to the States. So I bundled up my things and hit the road.

I didn’t have all that much to bundle up, having arrived with a change of socks and underwear and a manuscript. But of course I’d bought some clothing since I’d arrived, so I purchased a knapsack and took a bus south of Dublin to a town called Bray. From there I figured I could hitchhike.

But that turned out to be uncommonly difficult. I eventually learned that just a week or two earlier a hitchhiker had pulled a knife on a man, forcing his benefactor to drive miles out of his way before releasing him unharmed. Now back home, if this got any coverage at all, the leadline would have been something along the lines of “Kindly Hitchhiker Spares Moron’s Life.” But in Ireland, where this sort of thing didn’t happen, it was a nine-days wonder, and people who’d always picked up hitchhikers without a second thought now kept their eyes fixed straight ahead and drove on by.

It took a while, but I managed to hitchhike to Arklow. I think that’s where I bought the bike, but it may have been further along, in Wexford Town. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it turned out to be anything but.

For two reasons, really. One was that I was in very hilly terrain, and that I was always going downhill on a bike that was careening out of control or walking alongside the bike as I pushed it up a hill.

In the rain.

I kept at it, and I got as far as a town called Enniscorthy. I knew the town from a ballad of the 1798 Rising. I put up at a bed and breakfast run by a Mrs. Twomey, whose young son greatly admired the bicycle. I tried with all the guile of a New Yorker to sell that bicycle to Mrs. Twomey, and she, innocent denizen of rural Ireland, just bided her time while the price dropped. After I’d been there three days – a long time to be in Enniscorthy, unless Father Murphy’s leading you in battle against the yeomen – I offered to give Mrs. Twomey the bike in exchange for what I owed her for my bed and breakfast. She decided that would be all right, and I hoisted my knapsack and got out of there, and by then, of course, all Ireland had forgotten about the villainous hitchhiker, and I had no trouble getting rides – to Cork City, and then on to Bantry.

In Bantry, in the Anchor Hotel, I bought an Olivetti portable typewriter and began writing The Scoreless Thai. I wrote three or four chapters, and by then it was the middle of March, and something made me decide to return to the life I’d left behind in the States. I hitchhiked to Shannon and flew home, and when I’d landed I got back to work and wrote the rest of the book.

Tanner’s previous adventures all took place in Europe. Something about the character seemed to lend itself to border-hopping around the crazy quilt of Eastern Europe, and I wasn’t sure how well Tanner’s particular skills would lend themselves to an Asian landscape. I guess it worked out okay.

I thought of the title early on, and found it irresistible, even inevitable. A story about a Siamese who couldn’t get laid? I mean, what else could you possibly call it?

Some witling at Fawcett promptly changed it to Two for Tanner. I can’t begin to guess why, anymore than I can tell you who the titular two were supposed to be. Sheesh. The Scorless Thai, that’s the title, now and forever.

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