Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The Meal of Fortune by Philip Brady. I have an extract to share with you today but first, here’s what the book is all about.
Author : Philip Brady
Title : The Meal of Fortune
Pages : 384
Publisher : Unbound
Publication date : November 14, 2017
The worlds of arms dealing, espionage and TV cookery collide in this fast moving comedy caper.
Failing celebrity agent Dermot Jack thinks his luck might have turned when a mysterious Russian oligarch hires him to represent his pop star daughter.
Disaffected MI5 officer Anna Preston is just as happy to be handed the chance to resurrect her own career. Little do they know that their paths are about to cross again after seventeen years as they’re thrown together in a desperate attempt to lure a notorious arms dealer into a highly unusual trap.
Hard enough without having to deal with the lecherous celebrity chef trying to save his daytime TV career or the diminutive mafia enforcer who definitely has his own agenda. Then there’s the very impatient loan shark who ‘just wants his money back’.
And Anna’s bosses are hardly playing it straight either. But one thing’s for sure. There’ll be winners and losers when the Meal of Fortune finally stops spinning. Oh, and another thing, Anna and Dermot are absolutely not about to fall in love again. That’s never going to happen, OK?
Every Thursday the music would start in Dermot’s head the moment the bell sounded. And even before he got to the front door he’d be dancing inside. The little girl would already be out of the car, running up the path, one hand tucking a lock of long dark hair behind her ear, the other clutching the bag filled with a whole week’s worth of things she’d bought to show him. She’d always be laughing.
The music inside could be anything: that year’s big feel-good summer hit or some long-forgotten guilty pleasure with a heavy synth bass and cheesy samples. It didn’t matter; it always got him dancing inside.
And every Thursday the little girl would sit up at the kitchen counter to do the homework her mother had so thoughtfully saved up for her one night with Daddy. Still, a little help here and there and they soon had it out of the way. Then it would be time for the bag to reveal its contents. Sometimes one by one, more often all at the same time. Pictures she’d drawn as well as other random (and often unidentifiable) works of art. Stickers (what was it with kids and stickers?) and various little bits and bobs she’d collected along the way. Dermot would laugh and smile while he made her beans on toast. It wasn’t that he couldn’t cook (OK!). But Thursday was Molly’s night and it was her favourite. At bedtime ‘Just one more story’ ended up being three or four as they eked out every last minute of their time together. Their current record stood at eight.
And all the time the dance went on inside his head as the music carried on playing. Shaking, twisting and jiving. Sometimes a little breakdance or maybe even the disco strut.
As a younger man he’d got away with real dancing; at home, in the street, in the lobby of many an overpriced hotel. Just about anywhere. A few steps here, a spin or two there, maybe the odd little whoop. Amazing the allowances people made when you were young and all they wanted was their little own piece of you. But Dermot had learned long ago to keep it inside. The music, the dancing and a few other things besides.
‘The train will soon be arriving in London King’s Cross…’
He slipped out of his daydream to find the green of the countryside had given way to the dirty greys and dull browns of the city he’d always called home. So why did it feel like home was 400-odd miles behind him with an eight-year-old girl who still called him Daddy? Just. Little wonder the music inside didn’t play anymore.
Dermot stayed seated as the train slid to a halt, letting all the other passengers jostle their way off first. Only when the carriage was empty did he reach up and grab his small case from the overhead rail and head for the door.
Scotland, for God’s sake. Actually no: he was going to get it right. Scotland, for fuck’s sake.Not that he had any particular beef with the country. He’d just rather his ex-wife hadn’t taken his daughter to live there. With a man called Wayne. Wanker.
Come on… A Silicon Glen entrepreneur who’d made his first million at about the age of 12, then cashed it all in before the crash to become an organic cheese-maker.
Dermot gave the train a last look of lingering resentment as he stepped down to the platform and headed for the ticket barrier. He shouldn’t even have been on the sodding thing in the first place. Sarah’s phone call the previous Tuesday had changed that. ‘Erm, you see, the thing is…’
That was the thing about his ex-wife. There was always some sort of ‘thing’. This time it was the work deadline that would make it ‘just impossible’ for her to bring Molly down to London for half term. As bloody discussed, agreed and promised. Sarah was happy enough for him to come up to Scotland to see Molly. Not to stay with them but there was no reason why he couldn’t take his daughter to Edinburgh for a couple of days. It was a safe enough offer for Sarah to make, knowing he wouldn’t be able to drop everything at work or afford the hotel. Well this time she’d be wrong. On both counts.
‘Great, I’ll book the train tomorrow.’
‘I mean… If you’re sure.’ A delicious note of doubt had crept into her voice.
After weeks of delays Marcus Diesel’s new contract was finally edging its way past the collection of pedants and timewasters that the TV-production company insisted on referring to as its legal department. But any further questions the lawyers concocted could be answered easily enough by phone or email.
With no way to un-invite him, Sarah had dialled the breeziness back up. ‘In that case, Molly’s got a surprise. You’ll never guess…’
‘Daddy, Daddy!’ Molly had come charging through the door of the mock Scottish castle she now called home and down the path towards him. Sarah had stayed in the doorway, the scowl she saved exclusively for Dermot doing little to hide how good she looked. Her blonde hair had been expensively cut into a shiny new bob and she’d lost weight too – something she’d never bothered with when she was with Dermot. But then he could hardly…
Maybe best not to go over all that again.
Wayne at least had shown enough tact to stay well out of sight, no doubt lurking in one of the large feasting halls of what, on closer inspection, appeared to be a genuine Scottish castle. Not such a wanker after all then? Although Dermot didn’t plan to let that count in the man’s favour. Molly had wrapped her arms around him in one of those special eight-year-old-hugs that promised to go on forever. Then she let go and looked up at him with her best smile.
‘Wayne bought me a pony.’
Of course he had. That would be the surprise Sarah had mentioned. And yes, she’d been right: he’d never have guessed. Not long ago Dermot had bought his daughter ice creams when there’d been something to celebrate. Now another man was buying her horses. Wayne’s ‘tact’ in making himself scarce was nothing more than good old-fashioned fear of a punch in the head. Dermot knew he’d been right to avoid a hasty reappraisal of the man’s wanker status.
‘He’s called Nugget. I get to ride him every day.’ The words tumbled out as if they were never going to stop. ‘And he’s got his own special bit of the stable too. It’s bigger than your whole flat, Daddy.’
Yeah cheers for that, Mol. Was it so wrong to wish the beast a nasty hoof infection or a fatal cheese-churning accident on Wayne?
Two days in Edinburgh had done much to close up the gap driven between Dermot and his daughter by the three months’ long separation and the arrival of the bloody horse. Molly had chatted away about old times as they’d done the zoo, the castle, the shops, plenty of cafés and then the zoo again (zoos were a big thing for her). It was all his Thursday nights rolled into one. The horse barely got a look in after first day. But all too soon he’d found himself back at Chateau Fromage.
‘Bye, darling. I’ll see you soon.’
‘Bye-bye, Daddy.’ She’d said it with a sad little smile. But it had only been little and not really that sad. Then she’d turned away, asking Sarah whether it was too late to have a ride on Nugget.
Dermot had been left to head back to the waiting taxi, wondering if the driver might know where to buy voodoo horse dolls in Edinburgh. And extra-long pins. But then he’d had a far better idea.
The station concourse was busy and Dermot dodged through the crowds, weighing up the choice of taxi or underground for the trip across London and home to Chiswick. The station clock read 4.29pm. So, with an hour of the working day left, he plumped for a taxi. Plenty of time to get on the phone to the production-company lawyers and ask why the bloody hell they were still stalling on Marcus Diesel’s contract.
The taxi queue moved with a swiftness that was as unexpected as it was welcome and five minutes later he was in a cab heading along Euston Road, his sleek black phone nestling snugly in his hand. The little device was no ordinary phone though. It was the lightsabre to his Luke Skywalker. In his hands it could be a weapon of almost unimaginable might. All his power (well, all his contacts) dwelled inside the neat glass-and-metal shell. With it he could unleash the force and battle the evil legion of Sith (talentless, wannabe celebs and over-paid fuckwit lawyers). He was looking at the home screen when the Jedi weapon sprang to life, the name of the dark lord of TV cookery himself written large across the screen. The thought of speaking to Marcus made Dermot’s whole face hurt on the best of days. It wasn’t for nothing that the man had been voted TV’s most annoying man three years on the spin. And that was by a viewing public who only had to watch his show rather than speak to him at least six times a day.
‘Marcus, hi.’ He took the call reluctantly, trying his hardest to keep the sigh from his voice.
‘Dermot what the—’
The rest of what Marcus had to say was drowned out by the siren of a passing fire engine. Not that it mattered; most of it would have been one or other derivative of the word ‘fuck’.
But all Dermot caught were a couple more ‘fuck’s and maybe a ‘bastard’ before another fire engine roared by.
‘Marcus, I can’t hear—’
But the chef had already hung up, presumably happy he’d got his message across. A combination of poor mobile reception, more emergency vehicles and an overly stubborn receptionist at the production company meant he was well past Shepherd’s Bush before he finally got through to the lawyer he needed to speak to. Then the signal went and he lost the call. Dermot looked at the lightsabre lying useless in his hand and decided to give it up for the day.
Fifteen minutes later he was closing the front door of his flat behind him and dumping his case in the narrow hallway as he headed for the sitting room. For five long years the flat had been his sanctuary, coming alive with the sound of Molly’s laughter every Thursday night and second weekend. Now it just felt cold and desolate; the scratched dining table and scruffy green sofas with their mismatched cushions were too big for the undersized sitting room. He tried not to think about that bastard horse lounging about in the comfort of its vast executive stable.
Without Molly’s regular visits to the flat he’d decided to forgo the cost of a cleaner and it was starting to show. Then there was the smell drifting from the kitchen, carrying more than a suggestion that he’d forgotten to put the dishwasher on before heading to Scotland. Dermot took in the mess of papers and used coffee cups on his desk as he thought about fighting his way through the stale stench to tackle the dishwasher. But the prospect of a pint and a pie in his local was always going to win that debate. His stomach was already grumbling as he headed back down the hall and pulled the front door open, only to find someone standing in his way.
‘Ah, Mr Jack, hello. My name is Yegor Koslov.’
The man wore an expensive suit and a cheap haircut. The hair was thinning and blond (possibly dyed) and quite a bit too long on top; what the uncharitable might have described as a comb-over. At six foot four he could have pulled it off but at five foot five and a bit he didn’t stand a chance.
‘You are a very hard man to track down.’
Jesus, that accent; like the first baddie to die in a low-rent spy movie. But when he looked down into the little man’s eyes he saw something hard and cold there, something that suggested it would be foolish to underestimate him. Dermot took a step backwards, ready to close the door. Because, well… It wasn’t every day a real-life Russian gangster came calling. The Russian bit he wasn’t quite so sure of, although the name and the accent were pretty big clues.
When you’d spend half your life scratching the fleshy underbelly of the entertainment business you knew a crook when you saw one.
‘I have a message for you from my employer.’ The man smiled, the chill never quite leaving his eyes.
‘Look, I can…’ Repaying the money he owed the big loan shark wasn’t going to be a problem. It just wouldn’t be happening today. Or that week even. The ‘better idea’ that had trumped the voodoo horse doll had also proved a lot more costly. The deposit and three months’ rent he’d forked out for a flat in Edinburgh meant he’d be able to go to Scotland and see Molly whenever he liked. But it also meant that he was skint again.
‘Tell him—’ Dermot took another step backwards. It didn’t look like he’d be getting that pie and pint after all. But the little fella wouldn’t look quite so tough with a face full of front door. He shoved as hard as he could with his shoulder.
‘That’s not very friendly, Mr Jack.’ Somehow Yegor Koslov had stepped backward and still managed to force his foot between the closing door and frame, moving surprisingly quickly for such a little man. ‘Not very friendly at all.’
Then the Russian started to push the door back open. Turned out that he was surprisingly strong for a little man as well.
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I was first inspired to write when I read Lord of The Rings as a child. Back then the ambition was to create a whole fantasy world with dragons and sword fights. Sadly George RR Martin seems to have cornered that market, so I now try to comedy thrillers set in the (almost) real world instead. These feature spies, gangsters, vicious (if feckless) criminals, washed-up private detectives and daytime TV presenters. The Meal of Fortune is my first published novel. It is the first in a planned trilogy of comedy thrillers parodying society’s obsession with celebrity.
The follow-up, Tinker Tailor Solider Chef, sees the characters reunited in an attempt to foil a plot by the world’s most secretive intelligence agency (The Belgians) to bring the UK economy to its knees. The final book, centres on a referendum in Wales to decide whether the country should sell itself to an international technology giant for use as a conveniently located tax haven. It will be loosely based on the hilarious 80s film Local Hero.
My main rule in life is to never let tomato ketchup touch any food that is green. I am yet to work out any deep meaning behind this and suspect it is not the soundest of principles by which to live your life. But it’s better than quite a few I’ve come across down the years. Best not to get started on that one though.
I live in London with my fantastic wife and two remarkable children and didn’t vote for BREXIT.