Tanner on Ice

Page 40

“Harry Spurgeon,” the Chief said. “He’s everywhere in this, isn’t he?”

“But what’s his job? Was he pulling my chestnuts out of the fire or poking them in deeper? I think he must have tipped off the cops that I was holed up in the Strand. If he knew the phones were out, he’d have been able to figure out that I could only have called from within the Strand. Then a simple inquiry at the front desk would have told him what room I was in. But who was he working for? Crombie?”

He sighed. “I’m not sure of Mr. Crombie,” he said. “At first I found his idealism quite plausible. His wealth is literally beyond measurement. The desire for profit could hardly continue to motivate him. Having so much, how could he want more?”

“They always want more,” I said.

“That’s what I failed to grasp, my boy. That’s how they get that rich in the first place. By never being satisfied with what they have. By always wanting more. Oh, I’ll give Crombie the benefit of the doubt. I think he was sincere enough at the beginning, wanting to do some good in the world. But how could he avoid wanting to do himself some good at the same time?”

“And in Burma?”

“Trade concessions,” he said. “Development rights. The Chinese have the inside track, and a main competitor of Crombie is hooked in tight with the Singapore Chinese. And Crombie’s hand in glove with a consortium of Dutch and Belgians out of Jakarta.”

He went into more detail than I needed to hear. Crombie, he felt sure, had not sent me to Burma in the hope that I’d fail, purposely sabotaging my mission in the bargain. But the Singapore faction could have had a spy in his organization, and Harry Spurgeon was very likely their man on the scene.

“They want SLORC in power,” he said, “and hanging an American and tying him to Jakarta would help reinforce their position enormously. Crombie can’t really hope to get SLORC out of there, but anything that loosens their hold helps pressure them into opening up the country to other interests, not just handing it to the Chinks. Well, there are all sorts of ramifications, aren’t there?”

We discussed some of them in some detail. Then he said, “I’ll tell you this much, Tanner. Mr. Crombie is well pleased with your efforts.”

“He is?”

“He likes results,” he said, “and you’ve produced some, or at least it looks that way. There seems to be a full-blown insurrection in the Shan state, and some of the other hill tribes are said to be joining in. Now you and I know it for sheer coincidence, but if Rufus Crombie thinks otherwise, why don’t we let ourselves take the credit?”

“Why not?”

“SLORC put a lot of effort into making peace with the ethnic minorities. The last thing they wanted was for the Shan and the other hill dwellers to make common cause with that woman and her pro-democracy faction, but that’s what seems to be happening. And SLORC is making concessions on reforms. They’ve restored journalists’ access to that woman, and she’s giving interviews left and right. And they’ve allowed other trade interests to come in and compete with the fellows from Singapore.”

“So it all worked out,” I said.

“And there ought to be a bonus for you,” he said, “seeing as you’re alive after all, and came out of the affair empty-handed. I’ll see that you get it, Tanner. And I suppose you’ll need a new passport as well.”

“The one I have is Irish,” I said, “and I’m afraid it’s not authentic.”

“You might as well have a fraudulent American one to go with it. I’ve found an absolute wizard who can fabricate passports that pass the scanner. Build a better mousetrap, eh?”

“While he’s at it,” I said, “how is he on whipping up phony green cards?”

“Child’s play for him, I should think. But what on earth do you need with a green card?”

“It’s not for me,” I said.

“My Vanya,” Katya said, the green card in hand. “Now I am legal? I can stay in this country?”

“You’re as close to legal as you can get,” I told her. “The government didn’t issue that particular green card, but it’s every bit as good as the real one. No INS agent could find anything wrong with it.”

“Katarina Romanoff. That is a good name, yes?”

“It should guarantee you a good table in any restaurant in Brighton Beach.”

And that was where she lived now, in the Russian neighborhood at the end of the subway line in Brooklyn. She’d stayed on 107th Street at first, but neither she nor Minna was entirely at ease with the arrangement, and after a week it was clear to all of us that she needed a place of her own. When I took her to Brighton Beach for dinner and a walk around the neighborhood, she felt instantly at home.

Our own romance had been very much a creature of circumstance, fueled by shwe le maw and malaria, and we were both ready for her to take a small apartment in a good Russian neighborhood and make a life for herself. Lately she’d been keeping company with a Russian Jewish gangster who was, she assured me, very proud of her heritage. That her forebears had very likely launched pogroms against his forebears evidently didn’t distress him.

Minna was relieved when Katya moved out, and so was I, truth to tell. It was good to have the apartment to ourselves again. I got busy with my correspondence, catching up via letters and faxes and e-mail with some very good people all over the world. I got to work studying Burmese in earnest, and the Shan language too, while I was at it. I didn’t expect to go back to Burma, but I hadn’t expected to go there the first time, either, and if I did return I’d be prepared.

I relaxed, I settled in. I got a job writing a thesis – on Prince Kropotkin, coincidentally enough, and it infuriated me that I couldn’t remember the confidences he’d shared with me while I writhed in the throes of malaria.

Speaking of malaria, I found a doctor who thought he could knock it out permanently. So far I haven’t had any more attacks, but it’s too early to say whether or not the cure is permanent. Maybe it will hang on, making its unholy presence known every once in a while.

Like Harry Spurgeon.


“Evan Tanner,” a voice said. “Can you believe it? I heard you were dead.”

“But it turned out I was only sleeping.”

“So it would appear, yes. You never did come to tea that afternoon, old boy. I waited and waited.”

“I hope you ate all the sticky buns.”

He laughed. The connection was clear as a bell, but that didn’t mean he was down the block. He could be anyplace with decent phone service, so all that ruled out was Burma.

“I just wanted to pay my respects,” he said, “and to say I’m just as glad it wasn’t your neck that got stretched by a Burmese rope.”

“Just as glad, are you?”

“Indeed. You’re a worthy adversary, Tanner. If that indeed is what we were this time around. Sometimes it’s hard to be sure.”

“I suppose it is.”

“Do you want to know something? I have the certain feeling that we’ll meet again. Have you ever had that sort of feeling about someone?”

“Once or twice.”

“I have it now. Perhaps we will be on the same side next time around. That would be interesting, wouldn’t it? You and I, working together.”


“Or we might come up against one another, and that would be interesting, too. In another way, of course.”

“Of course.”

“Well,” he said. “I guess that’s all I have to say, Tanner. That and to wish you good luck.”

I looked over at the shelf above the fireplace, where the three ivory figures stood in Oriental – sorry, Asian – splendor. Good Luck, Good Health, and Long Life.

“Thanks,” I said.

“I’ll be seeing you, Tanner.”

“Yes,” I said. “You probably will.”


Evan Michael Tanner was conceived in the summer of 1956, in New York’s Washington Square Park. But his gestation period ran to a decade.

That summer was my first stay in New York, and what a wonder it was. After a year at Antioch College, I was spending three months in the mailroom at Pines Publications, as part of the school’s work-study program. I shared an apartment on Barrow Street with a couple of other students, and I spent all my time – except for the forty weekly hours my job claimed – hanging out in the Village. Every Sunday afternoon I went to Washington Square, where a couple of hundred people gathered to sing folk songs around the fountain. I spent evenings in coffeehouses, or at somebody’s apartment.

What an astonishing variety of people I met! Back home in Buffalo, people had run the gamut from A to B. (The ones I knew, that is. Buffalo, I found out later, was a pretty rich human landscape, but I didn’t have a clue at the time.)

But in the Village I met socialists and monarchists and Welsh nationalists and Catholic anarchists and, oh, no end of exotics. I met people who worked and people who found other ways of making a living, some of them legal. And I soaked all this up for three months and went back to school, and a year later I started selling stories and dropped out of college to take a job at a literary agency. Then I went back to school and then I dropped out again, and ever since I’ve been writing books, which is to say I’ve found a legal way of making a living without working.

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 Encyclopedia 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 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.

The first seven Tanner novels were written and published within a four-or five-year span. The eighth one took twenty-eight years.

Back in the day, I never made a firm conscious decision to discontinue the series. It felt to me as though I was done with it, and as time passed the likelihood of my ever returning to Tanner grew increasingly remote. There had been reason to stop – the lack of great enthusiasm on the part of readers and publishers, for one thing, and the fact that the stories and characters had seemed to me to be repeating themselves. And it struck me that there was further reason to stay stopped, in that all of the lost causes and irredentist movements to which my sleepless knight belonged had somehow transformed themselves; when I started writing about them they seemed richly comedic, and since then they had turned homicidal.

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