I’d been expecting him to name dingy little bar in a bar street in Shoreditch, but Tim Sussex surprised me by agreeing to meet me in The Moon Under Water, on Charing Cross road. He looked at me scornfully when I said as much to him, “Christ, if I’d know you were going to be some kind of muppet about this, I wouldn’t have gotten out of fucking bed this morning. I’m an investigator, yeah? Not a fucking cliche, all right?”
I made my apologies, and bought him a Virgin Mary in recompense. He explained thatdoesn’t drink because he gets migraines, so he avoids anything that he can’t mix with painkillers.
We sit down. He unwraps a fresh pack of cigarettes and lights up, while I fiddle with the tape recorder. “So, what d’you want to know, then?” Mostly, I’m after background stuff. The stories surroudning his recent success are already played out, the gossip rags moved on. My editor reckons we can get a background piece in, one last sales boost before the public’s interest is completely spent, and after steadfastly refusing to be drawn by the gossip rags, he’s agreed to talk to me, on the condition that we don’t talk about his most famous case. He’s sick of being hounded for a story he doesn’t want to tell, he says.
“You specialise in missing persons cases, yes?” I figure that’s the best place to start – work backward from there.
“I bleeding do now. Ever since the Marlborough case. Found the kid, kept me gob shut about the trouble I got him out of when I did, and now every chinless idiot on the plant has some waif or stray they want me to find. Half of the kids either have a spike in their arm or are shacked up with some tart that Mummy and Daddy would never approve of. But I keep schtum about it, so they all want me. The think I’m ‘discreet’.” I can hear the inverted commas he puts around the word.
“But you haven’t always specialised in missing persons?”
“Only since the Marlborough job. Before that, I did whatever paid the bills. Mostly divorce stuff, a bit of corporate work here and there, insurance fraud. Now, everyone wants me for missing persons.”
“So how did you come to be in your line of work, Mr Sussex?”
“Just sort of drifted into it when I came out of the army, to tell the truth. Friend of mine offered me a job after me discharge, and that was it, really.”
His tone makes it clear that his past isn’t really a subject he’s interested in talking about. I decide to chance my arm. “Look, don’t take this the wrong way, but anyone else in your position would be coining it in selling their stories. And you don’t sound like you’ve got a lot of love for the class of people that’ve been employing you of late. Why not flog the odd story, here and there?”
To my relief, he doesn’t seem too offended by the question. “Why would I? I’ve got enough money as it is, thanks. I’m not exactly bleeding Croesus, but like you say, the lot that’re paying my way at the moment are exactly short of a few quid, are they? Nah, I don’t want the attention in the first place, and if they’re willing to pay extra for what I’d do anyway, I’d have to be some kind of mug to wreak it. And I’m no mug, son.”
It’s at this point, I start to run out of ideas. He won’t talk about his work, he doesn’t want talk about his past – what the hell else is there that’ll interest our readers? I say as much to him, and he grins back, enjoying my discomfort a little.
“Well, I don’t bleeding know, do I? You’re the one what wanted to interview me, aren’t you? I thought it’d be all ‘what’s your favourite band’ kind of stuff. Isn’t that the sort of thing you lot usually ask?”
I stifle a scream of frustration. Only if we’re interviewing musicians, fuckwit! We talk about stuff that’s relevant to the person we’re interviewing. And you won’t let me near any of that
Sod it, I think. If my editor doesn’t like it, he can come and interview the awkward bastard himself.
“Alright then, who are you favourite band, then?”
“U2.” God, I want to throttle the pleb.
“The Fencing Master, Arturo Perez-Reverte.” That ones catches me by surprise. I’ve never got around to him, but he’s supposed to be a bit clever. Sussex doesn’t quite seem like the type.
“I’ve never read it, but I’ve heard good things. Mind telling me more about it?”
“Yeah, all right then.” He breaks into a surprisingly warm and friendly grin. “It’s a love story, set in Spain a hundred years ago between a fencing master who’s fifty-odd, and one of the best in Europe, and this much younger woman who comes to him for lessons. At first he refuses to teach her, ‘cos they didn’t teach women that sort of thing, but she shows him that she already knows, and he takes her on, and, well, I don’t really want to spoil the thing in case you get round to it. But it’s really elegant – this fencing master really belongs to an era even before the rest of the book – he dones’t understand the modern world. He’s too honest, and fair, and he’s caught up in his little world of fencing, looking for his perfect move, looking for the master stroke that can’t be parried, and he doesn’t understand the politics and lying that goes on around him, and she comes in and turns his world upside down. It’s just beautiful stuff, and the writing’s brilliant – elegant, and slow, like a Spanish summer afternoon. I read it a couple of months back, and I fucking loved it.”
My god! Where did that come from?
We talk for another half hour or so, about movies and his favourite colour, but he’s practically monosyllabic again. I think I’ve struck paydirt again when he briefly becomes animated about Finding Nemo, but it’s gone again as quickly as it came, and it’s not like he’s got any blinding insights into it.
So there you have it. Timothy Sussex. Private Investigator to the rich and famous, and a sullen moody sod, with a love for a good book. And Finding Nemo, it would seem.