Flip had not wanted a New York agent, but there had been no help for it. She’d been scribbling up in the nursery when Roddy came in, incensed, because some feller had got the number of Champneys by nefarious means and rung him up on the blower. She had refused to come to the phone. She hated phones.

She refused the first five times, but in the end Roddy had insisted she talk to the feller to put an end to it.

“It’s awfully kind of you, but I couldn’t possibly expect you to put up with my crotchets,” was the sentence released into the hated mouthpiece.

“Well, that’s settled then! I’m thrilled!” were the sentences that emerged from the hated earpiece.

The only way to end the conversation was to leave matters there, which she did.

Bert had then annoyed Roddy by sending an e-mail to the estate office asking to see some new work, and she had been made to send him a manuscript to stop the feller sending bloody e-mails.

Roddy wasn’t about to let her have a bash at the computer, of course, and the typewriter ribbon seemed to have ink left only on the red bit, so the thing she sent did look a bit daft, she’d rather hoped it would put Bert off. Chance would be a fine thing.

Bert’s staff were keen as mustard. They began excitably sending FedExes to Champers.

The FedEx chap did not live locally; he went to the front gate, last unlocked in 1972, failed to make entry, and retreated disconsolate to the depot in Alfreton. A telephone call was necessary to induce the herald poursuivant to essay anew using the back road from the village, whereupon the poor lamb got lost in the woods for hours. Drove the van manfully down a disused track onto tennis courts of yore, where the thing got bogged down. Roddy was apoplectic.

In the excitement of seeing his trusty steed extracted from the primeval clay the child somehow forgot to leave the package whose delivery had been the purpose of the expedition. FedEx would then send its man forth only if the front gate was unlocked, a piece of impertinence which had Roddy the picture of wrath incarnadine.

She could naturally not ask Roddy to drive her over, so it meant going by bus with two changes, only to find that the package had been returned to New York.

Bert’s staff remained undauntedly keen. They rang Roddy’s phone to leave messages; they sent him urgent e-mails to relay. They sent a fifty-page fax to a machine purchased in 1992, exhausting a toner cartridge which was the last of its breed. Roddy was livid.

It seemed simplest, in the end, to fly to New York and handle matters on the spot. Bert had negotiated a deal for half a million or so in real money; the contract needed to be signed, and Bert’s staff, while keen, met requests to entrust the document to the post with helpful offers to overnight it by beastly FedEx.

Flip had last flown in 1963. Got to the airport all right, but there was just a leetle hitch, because Mrs Vicar had booked her a cheap flight with a change in Barcelona. She was thinking about a story and inadvertently boarded the wrong plane. One had to climb back down the ladder to the runway and over to the other plane, and it was jolly interesting. It was the merest accident that she hadn’t discovered the mistake in Morocco; she happened to be sitting in someone else’s seat, but there were loads of empties. So you could disappear quite easily. Twelve-year-old girl is shipped back to England from Syria to an aunt with babies, has to change planes, boards the wrong plane, ends up, gosh, where, Paris. The flight attendants were quite cross with her when she boarded, but she got in a lot of scribbling, five chapters, flying was really rather good.

The plane landed in Newark at 6 AM, and there was this pother about getting into New York, people trying to bundle one into taxis. She couldn’t hack a ride in a taxi, with the driver, probably, talking to her the whole way, but when she scouted round she found a bus service, that looked all right. Her appointment with Bert was at three. She got into the city at nine and found the office at noon. Now one had only to avoid getting lost for three hours.

She’d passed a Dunkin’ Donuts on East 34th Street. It was open twenty-four hours. If you had nowhere to go they would probably not like it if you stayed there all night, but what if. Story. Alcoholic misanthrope teaches, gets the sack, doesn’t want to go home, spends three nights sitting in Dunkin’ Donuts who are about to kick him out when he starts teaching children in the afternoon using doughnuts as rewards. Hieroglyphics would be fun, children love hieroglyphics. For the most part. And even the ones that don’t are sure to like doughnuts. They could make a movie and Dunkin’ Donuts could sponsor it! Must she discuss this with Bert, now that Bert was her agent? As well as the plane-changeling orphan?


She braved the portals. She ordered a coffee and a box of twelve doughnuts in the interest of research. The place was really rather good for scribbling. It was awfully nice, actually, not having to worry about Roddy and Jane and the infantry. She scribbled three chapters of the doughnut book, scarfing scrummy doughnuts the while for fortification, and when she looked up it was 3.52. Oh, Lord love a duck.

She made a mad dash for Bert’s office and arrived on the dot of four. Bert’s staff were indefatigably keen but explained that Bert was now on the phone with another client and was booked solid till 5.30.

“Oh gosh,” she said. “I’m awfully sorry.” She looked round the reception. “Would it be a terrible nuisance if I just plonked myself on your sofa?”

The staff, these faxing and FedExing fiends, assured her that nothing would give them greater pleasure than to have her occupy their sofa. One brought coffee, another a tin of Scottish shortbread. “Just make yourself at home,” he said.

“Gosh, thanks,” said Flip. “Golly, biscuits, how scrummy. D’you know, the vicar’s wife made a killing on eBay with a shortbread tin. Some sort of celebratory tin. Marriage of George V. Someone was clearing out the attic, y’know, had all these whatsits going back to the year dot, handed it in for jumble.”

She sat on the sofa. Story. Twelve-year-old girl runs away, starts up eBay empire in attic of loopy old woman. Family wants to put the old dear in a rest home, girl to the rescue. She got out her notebook and started scribbling away.

When she talked to Bert it was really rather awful. The contract for the million dollars—£500,000 if the pound was having a good day—had still to be signed after its adventures with FedEx and luckless return. Bert now explained much that would have been explained earlier had she not terminated each telephone conversation after two sentences, or had Roddy not taken to deleting unsolicited e-mails. Namely, that he had bullied the publisher into guaranteeing various handsome arrangements for publicity. A twenty-city tour. Interviews. Readings at libraries and schools and bookstores.

“Gosh,” said Flip. “I really don’t think I could do all that, Bert. All I’m really good for is scribbling. I sit scribbling in the nursery, and sometimes, you know, talking to Roddy and Jane and the children is more than I can hack, so I just take my meals up there. I show up in village for church, of course, because Colin does get disheartened if the congregation falls much below ten, but really, you know, I’m not much good at talking to strangers. Praps you’d better go back to them and ask if they’d mind paying half a million without the publicity?”

Bert said he thought this would be a really bad idea. He said all writers hated it, it was just something you get used to if you want to take your career the way you want it to go.

She thought she might chuck up the Scottish shortbread if he talked any longer.

It seemed best not to say that she didn’t desperately want her career to go anywhere. Discretion is the better part and all that.


“How would it be if I simply disappeared? There was that boy who disappeared in the rainforest, it was in the papers for weeks. I could lie doggo for a month, and you and the publisher could get it in the press. I might manage a couple of interviews when found.”

Bert laughed. “I love working with writers,” he said.

She signed the contract, because Roddy would be irate if the thing fell through. Fixing the roof and the bloody heating was the least one could do having battened instead of marrying a merchant banker. Bert said he would love to talk with her about other projects while she was in town, they would make another appointment but it would help if she could come on time.

Idea. Now, this might work.

What if she traversed America staying at Dunkin’ Donuts?

She could put in an afternoon at each branch, teach children hieroglyphics using doughnuts as rewards. Might that not be something that could be used for publicity? That would not involve giving interviews and readings?


Or what if she didn’t bother about the publicity? What if she simply didn’t go back? What if she simply disappeared? Made her way across the country, teaching for doughnuts, anonymously? Might it not be possible to submit the doughnut book to a new agent under an assumed name? Roddy could have the million for the heating; if she got money under another name for a new book she could use it for anything she wanted. Go to Paris. Scribble away in France.

She went back to Dunkin’ Donuts, bought a cup of coffee and twelve Boston Kremes, retreated to a corner table. Started scribbling like a thing possessed.

Mrs Vicar had booked a round-trip ticket. Flip should have made another appointment with Bert, but it would have meant either ringing up or going back to the office and facing the fiends. She didn’t want to take a taxi to the airport, because the driver would have been sure to want to talk. She looked for the place she’d got off the bus, but she couldn’t find it for the longest time. By the time she got to the airport she’d missed the plane. It seemed simplest to go back into New York.

She couldn’t hack looking for a hotel. It seemed simplest to go back to Dunkin’ Donuts.

As one does. As she did. And continued to do.