“NO! NO! NO! It’s not working!” The shout echoed around the half-empty flat. Samuel Logan slid back the worn-out captain’s chair, and stared down at the cigarette ash covering the old cardigan he was wearing. He couldn’t even be bothered to brush it off. After a while, he looked to his right, drawn as always to the large framed photograph on the wall. His father, immaculately dressed in a three-piece suit, his hair slicked back, and a fresh flower in the buttonhole of his jacket. Samuel wondered what he would think of his namesake, his son. But he would never know, as he had never met him. All he had was this old photograph given to him by his Dutch mother, and the legacy of the flat, with the old shop below.
Twenty years. Twenty years since his mother had died, and he had found out about the inheritance. The old shop in a run-down area of East London, with a small flat above it. He had decided to sell up in Holland, and move to England, to the former home and business run by his absent father. He spoke the language well, and his mother had told him all about London, from her time living and working there. How she met the handsome man who stole her heart, and left her pregnant, to return home to disapproving parents. As well as the money from Mum’s house, he had savings, a gift from his maternal grandparents. They had always been kind to him, and helped out when Mum decided to never get married.
He had no need to open the shop. It was full of junk anyway, covered in dust. The windows were painted black, and the door padlocked. It seemed that his father had given up on the business long before he died. Samuel had enough to live on, and could enter the flat from the alley at the back, never needing to tackle that rusty lock. He would do something he had always wanted to do. He would write best-selling novels, inspired by the James Bond books he loved to read as a child. And he would be the hero, Sam Logan. Money-man, womaniser, a jet-setter with no scruples, and no conscience. He would invent a pen name, and create a thrilling villain who readers would love to hate. There might even be films. He looked in an old phone directory, and decided on the name Martin Harwood. It was the only one listed in that name. Less chance of clashing with another author.
Samuel lived frugally. He used just one room, and only had to heat it during the winter. For meals, he used local takeaway establishments, existing on kebabs, pies, fish and chips. He didn’t want the bother of cooking and shopping. As he had brought all his clothes from Holland, he had no need to buy anything new. But he would need a few things, just a few. From an advertisement on a card in the Post Office, he bought an old portable typewriter. It was a good one, the Remington Ten-Forty. And it was still in its zip case, looking hardly used. At thirty pounds, it was a bargain. Then he bought replacement ribbons, lots of typing paper, and some box files and binders. He put everything on a desk at the back of his room, next to the large photo of his father that he had hung on the wall. He would show him. He would be a great success.
For the next few years, Samuel worked slowly and methodically. He created lots of different worlds for his character of Sam Logan to exist in. In one, he was a financial whizz-kid, one jump ahead of insider trading, and stepping on anyone who got in his way. He married the boss’s daughter, and bought a lovely house. In another, his hero fled to Spain, living a life on the edge, avoiding criminals like the oily Pablo, and sharing that luxury lifestyle with his vivacious girlfriend, Vanessa. Sam even went undercover, pretending to be an ordinary tradesman, living on a housing estate in Essex, with a dull wife and their young daughter. He once lived in a luxury loft in London, posing as a successful novelist, whilst secretly doing deals with crooked Russian financiers. Sam could live any life Samuel chose to create for him, in any place of his choosing. He could come and go as he pleased, swapping one life for another, in a heartbeat. Always on top, always sharp.
After six years had passed, Samuel had completed five separate novels in his Sam Logan series. Each one was proof-read, and the typed manuscript neatly stored in its own box file, with the name of the book written on the card in the square space on the spine. It was time to start searching for a publisher. At the local print shop in the High Street, he was a familiar figure, but not well known by name. Over the years he had bought enough typewriter ribbons and reams of paper, to be considered to be a good customer. The manager gave him a deal on photocopying, and threw in some large transit envelopes. Samuel made five copies of each novel, and sent some to ten different publishers. When he left the Post Office, he was tingling with excitement.
It took almost a month for the replies to begin arriving. Three flat rejection letters, standard stuff, with printed signatures. Five of the publishers didn’t even bother to reply, though another offered to publish his first novel, but only if he paid a huge fee to them. That made him laugh. They could make a fortune selling his exciting books, but they expected him to fork out half his life savings, for the privilege of being available in print. The last letter came with some supposedly helpful advice.
‘Too many strands. An unsympathetic character, who no readers will warm to. Try to concentrate on one adventure for your hero. Have a clear beginning, logical construction, and an open ending, allowing for your sequels. Otherwise, it is quite good indeed. But not for us.’
Samuel refused to be bowed by the experience. He started again, from the first page of chapter one, of the first novel. Each story was reworked in detail. Characters swapped roles, changed location, relationship, even their age. After ten more years, he tried again with the publishers. This time, he got seven replies, all saying the same thing. He should start by self-publishing, online. Give away the first book through Amazon, as a teaser for the rest of the series. He needed to buy a computer, and to use Microsoft Word. Nobody read manuscripts anymore. If he did well on his own, then publishers would come looking for him. But for now, they were sticking with ‘established’ authors. The next few years had been the hardest. He didn’t bother with his books anymore, and spent too much time inside, on his own. He stopped bothering to wash properly, and started to dress in some old pyjamas, and a cardigan. There were times when he thought he might be losing his mind.
Then a month ago, he had decided to try again. The final reworking of the Sam Logan novels. One last throw of the dice, just like Sam would do. But it all got too much. It was too interwoven, even for him. By his own admission, it had become too complex, too confusing. Nobody would ever understand it, if he couldn’t even work it out himself. He had typed his last line.
Easing himself out of the chair, Samuel walked downstairs, shuffling in trodden down shoes. He put on the lights in the shop, and looked around at the dust-covered contents. Binoculars, old cameras, telescopes, and some militaria. Still all where his father had left it. Maybe he could make it work again? Pay someone to scrape the paint off the windows, and give them a good clean. Get everything dusted and tidy, and make use of the busy market outside, to attract customers. He was running out of money, so he would have no alternative soon. He could wear his father’s old suit, that still hung in the wardrobe upstairs. Smarten himself up. Yes, he would do that, starting tomorrow. Decision made, he felt better, and walked back upstairs to get something.
Leaning over the shelf inside, Samuel placed the old Remington in pride of place, in the centre of the window. When the shop opened up again, it would be clearly seen from the street.
Someone was bound to buy it.