When I wake up, I pick up my iPhone to check if something bad has happened during the night. Not a healthy habit to have got in to but a difficult one to give up. Today there was no new news just hangover reports from the weekend. Everyone is still trying to work out why the President had asked his medical team live on television to look into “whether light could be “brought inside the body”, and whether injecting people’s lungs with disinfectants should be investigated as coronavirus treatments. It was like a piercing amplified scream as soon as he had opened his mouth.
Some of the journalists in the briefing room jumped out of their skin whilst others let out an incredulous gasp. The rest of the world watching on television played back the recording to double-check they had heard properly. The President, the following day, attempted to walk back his remarks by saying, with just a dash of condescension, he was being sarcastic.
George, an old friend, texted me: ” Soon Trump won’t be making so many appearances during the daily briefings .”
So who is George? He has been my source to what’s going on behind the headlines ever since my PR days; he was on my payroll. He was a seasoned journalist who had worked for most of the papers- broadsheets and tabloids, both here and in the US. He had in his time the ability to report the ordinary day ordinarily passing. In other words, he could create a story out of nothing.
We first met years ago at the opening time of a bar off Fleet Street. It was as silent as a morgue and smelt of stale tobacco and drink. The curtains were still drawn and the staff were still clearing the half-empty glasses and ashtrays full of cigarette butts from the night before. It felt like a John Le Carre novel. We had been introduced by a mutual friend who said George could be helpful. He was not English but American and spoke in a quiet Boston drawl.
He insisted on buying the drinks. ‘ Drinks on me,’ he said making the gesture of tipping a glass towards the throat, ‘ what’s the point of having expenses if you can’t spend them.’
He snapped his fingers until he got the barman’s attention.
‘ Your usual, ‘ the barman said to George.
George looked rather embarrassed especially as he had just told me he hardly ever been there. He noticed my suspicion. ”It is fine to call it my usual when I’ve been frequenting the bar for over twenty years but ill-mannered when it’s announced on a second visit.’
We took the corner table. He spoke quickly as if to make up for lost time. I hardly got a word in. He boasted that he had the best contacts. ‘ If I had to give you a definition of success, it’s to have the personal telephone numbers to nearly all the most important people in the world.’
I told him that we should work together. ‘ I won’t be giving you stories. All I need is for you to tell me when a story is about to break concerning one of my clients.’
We shook on it. The morning drinks and the heat of the pub made him sweat profusely. I remember thinking he needed to look after himself and if didn’t a heart attack was not far away.
‘ I pride myself on discretion,’ he said
‘ Do you?’ I replied not really believing it. ‘ Look after yourself. You’re going to become important to me. ‘
And with that I said my goodbye. Rushing out with jacket under my arm to get to a lunch that I was late for. Before I walked out onto the street I turned to our table and caught him taking a sip from the gin and tonic I had left.
We have stayed in touch ever since. He did have that heart attack and did prove to be important, giving me the ” heads up” when anything was about to happen – he was nearly always accurate with his information.
George is now retired and in self-isolation alone in his apartment overlooking the North Sea in Margate. He texts regularly and prides himself that he still has contacts and knows what is going on.
On Friday he texted to say, ‘ Ssssh! No one knows but Kim Jong on is dead.”
On Sunday, I read that he was alive and had been seen on his train on the way to his holiday home. When I text George with the headline, he didn’t respond.
Maybe after all this time, George is finally losing his touch.
Te Quiero mucho,