James Follett

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Tiptoe Boys


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Tiptoe Boys James Follett ©2008

Foreword to this edition (1999)

When the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, the dust of its welcome and overdue fall deprived a generation of thriller writers of their arch villain, the Soviet Union. From Ian Fleming onwards, postwar writers had portrayed the USSR and its spymasters, the KGB, as a ruthless and efficient machine dedicated to the destruction of the West. The ruthlessness is still there -- it's an attribute that doesn't require skill or efficiency, but the truth that has since emerged is that the Soviet Union is so riddled with corruption and vice that it can't even feed its populace. Even its much-feared conventional weaponry has turned out to be a myth. When I surveyed the gutted wreckage of Soviet tanks in Southern Iraq in the aftermath of the Gulf War, I saw at firsthand the results of shoddy welding and workmanship when pitted against the bullseye weaponry of the West.

Consequently I was a little worried when Lime Tree/Mandarin suggested reissuing this book. It was written ten years' ago against the background of four-minute warnings and cruise missiles, and massive peace marches in Western capitals. Indeed the protests about the cruise missiles based at Greenham Common are a cornerstone of the book's plot. Now that the cruise missiles have gone and the Cold War has become, thankfully, a bad dream, I wondered how readers would react to a reissue of a book that has been overtaken by events. Not only have there been profound political changes during the past ten years, but there have been huge improvements in technology, particularly communications.

In The Tiptoe Boys police officers were hunting for phone boxes. Nowadays they're equipped with PMR radios which are a lot more advanced than the Pye PF8s that Bodie and Doyle used to yap into in The Professionals. Teleprinters have largely been ousted in favour of facsimile machines, and no self- respecting thug-about-town is without a cellular telephone in his pocket with the telephone number of a bent lawyer held in its memory.

(For the techies out there, I wrote The Tiptoe Boys using a Radio Shack Model 1 microcomputer nearly two decades ago when word-processors were virtually unheard of. It needed a special modification to handle lower case letters, ran out of memory every ten pages, and was linked to a daisywheel printer that could shred reams of expensive paper while giving a passable imitation of a submachine-gun.

Nearly twenty years later I'm writing this foreword on a machine that can hold several full- length novels in its memory, bully me with loud bleeps when I make a spelling error, which isn't often of course, and play chess at grand master level -- all at the same time. Maybe in another ten years or so I'll be able to feed a plot into a computer and sit back and watch while it writes the story. A grisly thought but I'm nursing a suspicion that some writers are already using such a technique.)

With these thoughts in mind, I carried out a major revision of The Tiptoe Boys to bring it up-to-date. Motives and villains were changed. Malek the paymaster and the real nasty, changed his nationality. The hardware used by the SAS was revamped. Revising the book was like gutting and modernizing a period house so that not even the facade remained. And like such a such a house subjected to such treatment, the result pleased no-one, least of all my editor at Lime Tree.

Her view was that the sweaty pace, the peace riots, the horrifying terrorist violence, and general atmosphere of the original version was something that sprang naturally from the political and social turmoil of the early 1980s; that it was a book that belonged to that period and should be read as such without changes. I reread both versions and concluded that she was right.

Therefore this book is the original version. I've tidied it up a little because the first typescript was written in a great hurry (in 30-days as I recall) to meet crisis movie deadlines. Chapters were despatched to Reggie Rose in Hollywood as they were written so that he could complete the screenplay. The film Who Dares Wins was a great success, as was this book. Unfortunately I couldn't use Who Dares Wins as its title, much as I would've liked to, because Tony Geraghty had already collared it for his excellent history of the SAS.

James Follett. Godalming, Surrey. July 1999.


The scruffily dressed young man wearing a crumpled plastic anorak crossed the road opposite the St Stephen's entrance of the House of Commons. His straggly hair needed washing, and his unshaven chin, betraying the hint of an incipient beard, added to his unkempt appearance. He was wearing blue patched denims. Pinned to his anorak were a couple of the mandatory political badges.

He was in a hurry. He dodged a couple of taxis as he crossed the road to the phone box opposite the Palace of Westminster. Inside the booth he dialled seven digits. It was a special number that provided a direct connection from wherever in the United Kingdom one dialled it. It was a number listed in no directory, which he knew by heart, and which he and those who did his kind of work never wrote down.

`Come on,' urged the young man impatiently under his breath. `Move it.'

He didn't notice the moped rider pulling up at the kerbside, level with the phone booth. The rider's face was hidden by the crash helmet's black-tinted visor. Outwardly the rider was a "knowledge boy": a would-be taxi-driver studying for his "bill" by learning his way around London armed with maps attached to a clipboard mounted on his handlebars.

The number rang three times before it was answered. No coin had to be inserted by the caller. Instead, a voice said: `Duty officer.'

The moped rider studied the clipboard under which was concealed a gun with a silencer. Seemingly casual adjustments of the position of the handlebars enabled the rider to aim the gun. Suddenly a glass pane in the kiosk shattered. A nine millimetre slug ploughed into the young man's body, smashing its way between his ribs and through his heart's main ventricle, coming to rest in his left lung.

`Duty officer,' repeated the phone voice, but the young man had already slipped to the floor of the booth, dead, and the receiver dangled from its cord.

`Duty officer,' said the voice for the third time, more urgently.

The call was already being traced because it was standing practice to track any unexplained calls to this classified exchange and number.

But before the location was identified, a woman opened the door of the kiosk. When she saw the young man in the anorak, slumped on the floor, and the blood, she screamed.

The moped rider was half way across Westminster Bridge before the first police cars arrived, sirens howling.

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