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The Hunt for Red Cacafuego

That well-known publication, the London Literary Review, today carries an item and extract on the new book.

"Due to other writing commitments, Patrick O'Brian has engaged his close friend Tom Clancy to ghost-write his next book. An extract is printed below.
At first this may seem an unlikely pairing; it dates back to a review by Mr. O'Brian of Mr. Clancy's book 'The Sum of All Fears', at which Clancy took offence and called his elderly fellow author out for a duel. This was settled by each carrying his trademark weapon - an antique silver-handled flintlock pistol for O'Brian, and a laser-guided anti-tank bazooka with computerised wind-compensation and terrain-following guidance system for Clancy (both obtained by mail-order from Sears). The duel resulted in minor flesh wounds for both and a rather singed appearance to O'Brian's hair, at which point honour was satisfied and a firm friendship ensued. We are honoured to print a small part of the resulting book."



In the grey cold fog, the silent, sleek, deadly hull of the HMS Stealthy cut through the waters. On her quarterdeck Jack Aubrey peered about him through the mist.

"What have we got up, Tom ?"

"Sir, I have two lookouts at Combat Mast Patrol on the fore and main crosstrees, and two midshipmen spotted on the deck at Plus Five readiness with orders for the tops."

"Get 'em up, Mr. Pullings"

At the blast of a whistle, deckhands rushed up to the mids, snatched away their coffee cups, rammed hard round hats and small silvery spectacles designed by Stephen on their heads, and stood back. The midshipmen twirled their forefingers and gave a thumbs-up, a crewman raised his right arm, and two burly Able Seamen picked up the reefers and launched them at the ratlines. They swarmed upwards.

"They're off, Sir."

"Very good, Tom."

A short while later there came a shout.

"Conn, Masthead: one sail, bearing two-five-zero, range four, closing. Topsails only."

"Evasive, Mr. Pullings."

A short while later, they were ghosting along behind the other vessel, murky in the fog.

"Tom, I believe we may... - er, why is Mr. Martin shouting 'Call the ball' at that bird ?"

"Truth to tell, Sir, I'm not entirely sure."

They watched with puzzled frowns as the Revd. Martin dropped his red and green lanterns and screamed "Wave off! Wave off!" at a small fat quail gliding down towards the deck. It clipped the taffrail, tripped nose down onto the deck and skidded forward to collide with Jack's feet, smoking gently. Martin grabbed it, took a roll of paper off its leg, and gave it to Jack before hurrying downstairs with the bird, comforting it. The paper was labelled "Admiralty Mk.IIIA Quail-Type Long-Range Communications Asset, HM Govt Property" and was crammed with coded gibberish. Jack shook his head resignedly and took it below. Damned newfangled devices.

As he entered his cabin an arm shot round his neck and squeezed his windpipe, and an uncouth voice breathed in his ear:

"I can break your spine in three places from here with my left kneecap. The desk is booby-trapped, I know 15 martial arts, I've just poured gunpowder down your shirt and I can light a match with my bare teeth. You can call me Clark - John Clark. It's not my real name, but you'll be dead before you find out."

"Look - for God's sake, Killick."

"Oh. Beg parding, Cap'n. I was just guarding these here wicked private papers, and I didn't knows it was you."

"Christ. Well, here's another one. Take it down to my clerk, and if I catch you at my Madeira again..."

There came another shout from above. The ship in front was heeling to starboard unexpectedly - a French manoeuvre known to the Royal Navy as 'Crazy Yves'. Jack rushed on deck, shouting 'back the foretopsail!'.

"Conn, Masthead: we're cavitating - the sails are flapping! He can hear us!"

A shot boomed out from in front. It had been meant as a warning, but a ball came skipping over the water, ricocheted off a tall wave, and smashed Jack's quarter-gallery to smithereens. He looked down mournfully at the remains of  his place of ease drifting away in the swell, reflecting that only that morning he'd taken half a dozen of the Doctor's special blue pills. That did it.

"Bonden, stand by to establish contact with submarine assets," he barked. "Tom, in the Doctor's absence please ask Mr. Martin to arm the ASLOTH launcher."

Bonden ran below and leaned out of a gunport. Below him the Doctor's wooden submersible, copied after his earlier model used in the Red Sea, bobbed a few feet under the surface. Above him he heard the cry, "Bonden, activate the Ultra Low Frequency underwater communications device". He promptly picked up a bargepole and rapped smartly three times on the top of the wooden diving bell.

Inside, Stephen and Padeen heard the thump - thump - thump. "Is there to be no peace in this miserable war-torn world ?" fumed Stephen, flinging aside the squid he'd been examining. There was a sad wet squelch. "Very well - hand me that cursed book", He rifled through His Majesty's Admiralty's General Printed Instructions on the Deployment of Underwater Vehicles, 3rd Edition. "Three taps - STAND OUT FROM UNDER, WE'RE SINKING - no, no, wrong page - ah, here we are:
THIS IS NOT A DRILL. - good heavens, all that from three taps, for all love ?"

"The English are a verbose race, so they are." replied Padeen in his native fluent Gaelic, climbing on to his geared pedals. Outside a propellor began to turn, and they moved off. Operation SCREAMING JELLYFISH was underway.

Back on deck, Jack brought the ship about and gave the order to fire. His Gunner had been a gunner's mate under him on board the old Worcester, and had unfortunately been deeply impressed by the firework powder that Jack had used for practice firing. Nowadays he had to be constantly checked from loading the ship with flares, flying rockets, sparklers, and Catherine wheels. The results of his last run ashore now became sadly apparent as the guns went off and the air between the two ships filled with spinning, whistling, flaring projectiles in assorted colours; great gushes and fountains
of sparks; shots that flew up to a great height and then divided into countless lovely little flames, and one that exploded into hundreds of tiny flares on cute little parachutes. The Gunner giggled and rolled around on the deck, chuckling and sucking his thumb. His mate hurried him off to feed him more of his regular dried herb pills.

Meanwhile, Martin had finished his preparations. He patted the hollow projectile, and watched as it was loaded into a stumpy gun on the forecastle.
There was a loud bang, and the secret weapon was on its way. It soared out over the water. As it reached its apogee, the protective shroud fell away and the warhead got its first view of the enemy. Wearing little protective goggles, it peered around as its canvas canopy opened. The sloth settled gently on the deck, unseen, and began to gnaw away at the rigging.

Jack stood on his quarterdeck and gazed through his telescope as his elite forces did their worst. The enemy's masts tumbled in a confusion of sails as the sloth triumphed. The Gunner's special unauthorised flare-shower set the whole mass on fire. Finally the diving bell with its specially adapted hull-mounted surgical bone-drill sent the lot bubbling into the sea. The Gunner's last shot detonated in a carefully timed shower of delayed flares, leaving the words THANK YOU ALL FOR COMING TO THE SHOW HAPPY GUY FAWKES DAY GOD SAVE THE KING AND PARLIAMENT hanging in letters of fire above the wreckage.

The clerk came running up on deck, waving his decoded quail message. "To Captn
Stealthy comma at sea stop", it read. "Be advised my brother Heneage in your immediate area comma carrying despatches for you stop convey my regards
Doctor Maturin stop Melville comma FstSeaLd stop".

"Er..." said Jack, looking uncertainly at the sodden splinters drifting past him. The fog rolled in.

[Marketing Director to Editorial team, MEMO: any chance of getting Craig Thomas instead ?]

© Ganesh Suntharalingam