Friday, 5 October 2012

Book Post: An Interview With Gerald Lynch

Bob Studholme is a lecturer in English at the Al Ain branch of Abu Dhabi University. One of the beta readers who gave valuable and extensive early feedback on the book, he volunteered to interview Gerald Lynch, the Northern Iriish spy who plays such a key role in Olives - A Violent Romance (where all agree he is a complete cad) and Beirut - An Explosive Thriller (where readers learn that Paul Stokes' view of Lynch might have been somewhat skewed by circumstance).

Either way, Bob let himself in for this. And here's how it went:

An unnamed hotel in Beirut. Yesterday.
   A knock sounds on the door.
  Bob Studholme slinks into the room with a nervous grin. A university lecturer, he’s been forced to adopt the role of journalist and, even if he lectures in English, the prospect of facing down a difficult subject in person is not one he had counted on actually having to physically endure. He feels sweaty. Difficult doesn’t quite do it justice, he thinks. Dangerous. He gulps.
  The man he is here to meet stands, brushing his trouser legs. Studholme advances, his hand held out. He bobs a little. The man shakes the proffered hand and gestures to the armchair opposite his own. Studholme sits.
  ‘Would you like a drink? Something for the nerves?’ says Gerald Lynch.
  Peering up, he nods. ‘Umm, yes please.’
  Lynch wanders to the sideboard and fixes two stiff scotches. ‘Here. You’ll take ice.’
  Studholme almost spills the drink, gulping it too fast and wiping his bearded chin with the back of his hand.
  ‘So they’ve sent you to interrogate me, is it?’
  ‘Well, not so much that as interview you.’ He finishes the drink and Lynch pours him another.
  ‘Let’s get it over with then,’ the Irishman sits back, his hands steepled and his blue-eyed regard on the English lecturer with his notebook and HB pencil. Studholme produces a voice recorder and places it on the table between them. His voice is stronger than he feels.
  ‘To start with the one that puzzles me most, Mr. Lynch. You are an Irishman.  A Catholic Irishman from the North, where it matters even more than it does in the South. So why are you working for the Empire?’
  Lynch waves his condensation-frosted glass at Studholme, his finger pointing. ‘You’re a cheeky bugger, aren’t you? That’s a fine start, that is.’
  Studholme, fortified by whisky, stands his ground. There is a long silence. Lynch turns to put his drink down.
  ‘Let me tell you something, Bob. It is Bob, isn’t it?’ Studholme nods his assent. ‘I grew up in an orphanage but they put me out to a family whose kid was on heroin. He died and they blamed me for the habit their son had and they didn’t know about. So I got sent back. A few years later I met the dealer who sold him that last hit and he was an IRA man. That was the day the truth first hit me. They didn’t mind how they made the money to buy guns, see? They became criminals, as bad for decent folk trying to get by as the Brits, even worse. I used to join in, throwing stones and stuff down on the Falls Road. But after that I sort of lost my appetite for people who deal heroin for their so-called fight for freedom. So when the Brits came calling, I answered.’
  ‘Still, working for the people that you do has got to mean working with the British Establishment. Forgive me for saying it, but I can't see that being a mix of personality types that is exactly made in Heaven. In fact, I think you'd piss each other off royally. How do you get on with your superiors?’
  Lynch laughs. ‘You’d be right on the money there. Look, you have to understand how these people work. They don’t really care too much for the niceties of life, they have a job to do. And I’m the guy they like to give the messy stuff to. Channing understands the Middle East is hardly what you might call a ...’ Lynch makes air quotes, ‘conventional environment. So we have conventional assets in the region but it suits him to have someone around who isn’t too ...’ Lynch reaches for his drink and takes a slug. ‘Prissy. As far as getting along, we rub along okay as long as we avoid each other.’
  Lynch leans back and favours the room with an indifferent glance as Studholme scratches away at his notebook with the pencil.
  ‘You writing shorthand there, Bob, are you?’
  ‘Umm, no. Just catching up.’
  ‘Thought they taught you journalists shorthand. ‘spose they just teach you Facebook now, is it?’
  Studholme grinns weakly, sips his drink and raises his gaze to meet Lynch’s intensity. ‘I can't remember who was supposed to have said it, but there is a story of a Lebanese whose reaction to Churchill's description of Russia (a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma) was to say that in Lebanon, such stories are told to little kids, who like simple tales. So how do you find working there? And, while we're on the subject, how do you get on with your counterparts in the Lebanese intelligence world?’
  ‘There’s one simple law in the Middle East. “My brother against my cousin, my cousin against the stranger.” Once you cop on to that, you’ll be fine. I like working here plenty, you don’t get bored easy here. Mostly my masters leave me alone, sometimes they remember me and throw some bones my way. I’m a dustman, me. I clean up mess. Lebanese intelligence? Most of their intelligence consists of blood and sawdust, let me tell you. Tony’s good people, but he’s a copper not a spook. If their spooks get you, let me tell you now, Bob, you’d better have non-conductive balls.’
  Lynch’s dry chuckle turns into a cough. He sips his drink, shaking his head at his own wit.
  Tongue protruding from his lips, Studholme toils away with his pencil. Lynch regards him with amused tolerance. Finally, the man raises his head from the notepad.
  ‘Someone once defined the stress that the police are under because of their work as: That feeling and desire, along with the ensuing bodily effects, experienced by a person who has a strong and true longing to choke the living shit out of someone who desperately deserves it, but can't. Get that much in your job?’
  ‘I usually just choke ‘em. Next.’
   ‘On the same line, the police are generally a reasonably honest group, but their divorce rate shows that they have difficulty in keeping relationships going. You, being a professional liar, can't have an easier time. At the risk of sounding like a Women's magazine, how do you keep relationships going?’
  ‘Professional liar, is it? Liar?’ Lynch’s smile is Siberian. ‘You’re a cheeky fecker, are you not? I keep relationships going or not as I see fit and by Christ that’s all I’ll tell the likes of youse about my bloody relationships.’
  His eyes drop to the notebook momentarily before Studholme faces Lynch, rebellion in the set of his shoulders. ‘In your job you might talk about sources and assets, but what you often mean is the people you lean on and use. Those people can't all have happy endings. How do you deal with it when bad things happen to good people because of you?
  Lynch leaps to his feet. He leans across the coffee table. He raises his hand, his two fingers together pointing at Studholme’s forehead. ‘I know precisely who you’re talking about and you can drop that line of questioning before you find yourself wearing a laser fucking bhindi, you understand me? I was not responsible for what happened to him. They told me to play nicely with you but I find my desire to conform to my empirical masters’ wishes is being very fast eroded. I hope I make myself clear to you. Bob.’
  Studholme drains his whisky, his face pale and crimson patches high on his cheeks. Perched on the edge of his armchair, his body weaves and he blinks a little. ‘Sure.’ He says, before burping. ‘Look, last question. James Bond always gives the impression that spying is about having the right gadget and a really nice suit, but there must be more to being a spy than that.  How much intelligence is involved in the intelligence business?
  Lynch ponders the question, then laughs. The tension leaves him and he curls back into his seat. ‘Intelligence?  There’s precious little intelligence goes on. Just shit and fear, small people trying to get by and big people crapping on them from a great height. Sure an’ you get the pure data from people like GCHQ and outfits like Nathalie Durand’s, but that’s no substitute for what the Yanks call humint. What you and I might call people. It’s all about people, scared people and happy people, bad people and sometimes even good people. People who care, people who’ve got things to lose. Loved ones.’ Lynch pauses, a puzzled look on his dark features as if he has even surprised himself. He stands, pulling down the lapels of his jacket. ‘Right. That’s us then. Here, I’ll show you the door so’n I will. You might want to get a taxi home.’


akisdad said...

Good stuff, but I'm a 'used to be a lecturer at UAEU'. I now work at Abu Dhabi University at the Al Ain branch.(And I'd only take whiskey with ice under threat of violence - I'm a Geordie, not a bleedin' Eskimo)

Alexander McNabb said...


Updated the post - you need to update your Google profile.

As for the whiskey thing, see dialogue:

"Here. You'll take ice."

Enjoy your drink, Nanook! :)

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