Life Like Quiller

By Jean-Pierre Trevor

I called the departure gate operator at Phoenix Skyharbor International airport in Arizona. I had a request: would she please make sure that once airborne, a flight attendant puts a napkin under my father's drink with the letter 'Q' written on it. I explained that he's a well-known British spy writer, and thanked her.
     The gate operator got it wrong, had told the captain a 'famous British spy' was on board. The police questioned Adam Hall, my father, and the departure was delayed for an hour. Sometimes our signals game didn't work.
     In Arizona at night my father and I would cruise our cars close to 100mph for a few minutes, watching out for the Phoenix police. Our license plates: Q1 and Q2.
     A Phoenix cop makes his way towards our cars to write out a ticket. Seeing the reflection of the cop in the chrome mirror case, I say to my father 'About 30 feet away, we've got four seconds.' And we'd get in the car and be gone. At airports I'd wait, unseen, for my father to arrive, and then walk up behind him without a sound. Or he'd already be watching me in the cover of a shadow, waiting for him.
     Typical talk between us, as we sat watching people, wearing our dark glasses: 'Man with black hat at four o'clock. Use peripheral only'. We challenged each other with our observation skills: 'That car over there, the right rear fender, do you..' 'Government symbol, and it's the left rear fender.'
     We both hold 1st Degree Shodan in Traditional Japanese Shotokan Karate, trained by Sensei Shojiro Koyama in Phoenix. We'd practice blocking attacks and at Christmas we'd exchange presents of Japanese swords, nerve-strike booklets, and maps of the Treblinka prison. On restaurant tables I'd find raisins forming the shape of a 'Q'. (Pol's strategy talk in QUILLER MEMORANDUM an embarrassment as a film). As condensation formed on mirrors in a washroom somewhere, I would see a 'Q' appear or my father would find a 'Q' at the bottom of an empty swimming pool. In most cases one of us would be nowhere near the area, sometimes countries apart.
     This was our signal, our game, and it lasted for twenty years.

     I started signing 'Q' very young, notes, cards to my father. Like many children, I wanted to be Bond. But Quiller was different. By showing interest, eventually an obsessive interest, in the character he'd created, I believed I could earn a loving father. That was not to happen. That Adam Hall created both the need for me to go into a double life and survival mode, and the character I used to help me survive, is a plot in itself.
     I am not an agent, but I live inside the mind of one. A necessity in my case. I've even behaved like one at times. Defying a fax from the Foreign Office on safety in marginal areas of Moscow, springs to mind: walking through ice drifts on a council block from hell, at 1am on the fringe of 'Moskva' during three months in a minus 23 Siberian winter in 1998 - testing my survival instincts, how to deal with fear, make it into strength. Screw the fax.
     Or walking past Spanish guards with automatics and going into the most expensive hotel in Madrid to have a shave and shower in an empty room that lasted ten hair-raising minutes. Just to see if I could get away with it. And if someone had broken into my crap hotel-room in Paris full of low-life, they wouldn't have found anything; my few possessions were hooked onto a bent coat hanger outside the window over the edge. I practice watching what's happening behind me in window reflections, any reflective surface. Telling my escort, a British soldier at a Bosnia / Croatia checkpoint to change his behavior towards the guards who had our passports and had guns was very much 'Q' territory. He was displaying a testosterone left brain fuelled thinking and I wanted him to use his right brain and offer them a cigarette so we could both stay free and un-shot. (WARCHILD sent me to Bosnia in 1997.)

     The 'Q' games. It made it easier for my father to relate to me, the only way he could, within a game. It made it tolerable, bearable for him, to have me in his life. Once I'd caught the bug, fuelled by the desperate need to win approval from him, I started to drive like Q, walk like him, think like him, even believe I was him.
     Then in 1987 my only beacon in the night, my mother, ceased to exist. Now I was face to face with my father, but not for long.
     At 4:10 on July 21 1995 twenty years of Quiller games ended. Adam Hall, my father, died. I was alone for the first time in my life.

I don't know if the unexplained flashing lights that myself and others (Arizona journalists at the memorial service) witnessed two days after he died was a signal, or if during those last minutes on July 20 as I typed out the final paragraphs for his last book QUILLER BALALAIKA for him, a message filtered through: 'I'm gone, but take Quiller and make of him what you will'. I might never know.
     But I have taken what I learnt from eighteen Quillers, all the 'training' we shared and used them as if my life depended on it; which it has. Assembling what I know about the inside of the mind of the character called 'Q', into my own brand, a template for a visual manifestation of a Millennium agent.

     But it's not a game anymore. And I knew the character 'Q' had to change as I've had to, so I did what any decent agent knows he or she has to do. I turned around and looked right down into the abyss.
     Obsessions can be used to avoid staring into the abyss. But to keep demons, fears, and the inner darkness a manageable size, facing the abyss is essential for any agent. It gets better; look into this black hole long enough and some light comes out of it, a vital tool when confronting darkness - an agent's job.
     As the theatre of conflicts change on the human stage, so must 'Q', so must any agent. What drives them. They need to know why they are doing what they do.
     Japanese sword-makers are national treasures in Japan. And they do not think about the world cup or a nice chop for dins because they are completely focused on one thing: the blade, and its hundreds of paper-thin sheets of samurai steel, and they know why they are in that state of mind: because it has to be the finest blade ever made. Or in the case of an agent: because they saw their mother murdered.
     Or because they hate their headmaster and authority, (Quiller).
     Or because they have a compulsion to bring down those who abuse power and take lives and freedom. But they have to know why, because this is their fire that burns them on.

     Nineteen Quillers represent my father's armor: controlled, efficient, simmering with 'barely controlled rage', a charismatic British agent with an eccentric side, a scarred loner walking a thin thread formed out of a neurotic need for self preservation. Yes, I understand.
     MI5 removed a Russian assassin in London last week, and rumours are that the cold war is back. True or false, an agent today has to be a new breed to survive anyway.
     That's where the abyss comes in.
     Part of traditional Samurai training includes Ikebana flower arranging and poetry. Right and left brain use and knowing silence and stillness: this is where the power lies. The abyss is the final exam.
     Bourne and Bond, and their bombs, bangs and guns: it's all good fun. But it's the inner stuff of an agent that counts. Time for a new agent.

     In 1995 I carried my father's ashes up a 6,000-foot peak on the Indian Reservation in the Arizona mountains and buried them. Our game is over now but I know the pieces intimately.

     Signals closed.

     JP Trevor / London, February 1998 / Re-written August 20, 2007 / Copyright 1998 (c) JPT

Last modified: Thursday, November 29, 2012

Copyright 1998 (Rev. 2007) by Jean-Pierre Trevor (jptrevor1-at-gmail-dot-com). It is reprinted here with the author's permission. All rights reserved.