The outdoor terrace of the Ska-Ra-Van lounge was Len LeCarré’s favorite place to enjoy an exotic spirit in all of Montego Bay, Jamaica—and for good reason. The water surrounding it was clear as English gin, and the needle on the aged phonograph playing Ronald Alphonso was worn down just enough to give the music the proper rustic character. Nursing a mixture of Blue Curacao, dark rum, and pineapple juice, LeCarré listlessly flipped through the pages of a manuscript he had just finished, a novel entitled Forever and a Day. As LeCarré reclined in his favorite wicker chair on the blessed balcony he thought fondly of all the friends he had shared cocktails and conversation with on this porch. But none among them ranked in as high esteem as the gentleman whose company he awaited.
LeCarré had met Coburn Vaughn in May of 1940, after the Battle of Dunkirk, when the Nazis drove the British Expeditionary Force across the Channel with its tails between its legs. The two young soldiers were both rescued by The Exeter, a private pleasure yacht, and one of the many “Dunkirk Little Ships” commandeered by His Majesty’s beleaguered Navy to evacuate the boys from France. Most of the unlucky Tommy’s were carted across in ferries and fishing boats, but Corporal Vaughn had traded a couple packs of Benson and Hedges to secure himself a smoother ride. And since young Len looked the most terrified of the young boys around him, Vaughn threw in a pack of nudie playing cards to bring the kid along.
Once the ship had cast off, Vaughn and Len reclined on a couple of finely finished wooden chaise lounges and watched as the shores of Le Thames Estuary disappeared into the horizon. Vaughn pulled out a flask of French vodka and a bottle of vermouth, took a sickening swig of each liquid, gurgled them together in his mouth and swallowed. Coburn gave a slight shutter and handed the two bottles to Len. LeCarré warily mimicked his host’s ritual, and found it surprisingly invigorating. “The Dunkirk Martini,” proclaimed Corporal Coburn Vaughn proudly, “Shaken with but vodka and vermouth, because the only water was stained with our blood.” At that moment, Vaughn had taught LeCarré the trait that would blast the Nazis off the face of the continent: God’s honest courage.
But LeCarré had always been craftier with a pen than a sword. When the British Intelligence services began their campaign of dropping dead paratroopers behind enemy lines with bags full of false intel to confuse the Germans, Len found a job writing fake letters and journal entries to be placed on the corpses in order to complete “the effect.” Coburn Vaughn, soon promoted to Lieutenant, spent the rest of the war running commando raids on Vaasgo, St. Nazaire, Dieppe, and countless other targets. Though they saw to markedly different duties, the two men never failed to catch up over a pint of Burton Bridge when opportunity allowed. As the war blazed on, Vaughn always had colorful new accounts of daring-do to relate to his old comrade. Eventually young Len took to writing them down.
When the allies claimed victory, Len LeCarré was honorably discharged from the service and began a career in the press. Coburn Vaughn was promoted to Captain and given “Special Agent” status. Coburn’s cover was that of a rather droll textiles salesman, but his real duties were toppling governments and eradicating enemy agents in exotic locales. When LeCarré took a staff position at the Observer in Jamaica, his old friend Commander Vaughn began redirecting his vacation time to the Caribbean. The new exploits Vaughn recounted to LeCarré during these visits were even more exciting than his wartime tales, and now they were garnished with the great luxuries of post-war life: meaningless sex and thoughtless drinking. Fascinated, Len began turning these tales into short stories written for his own amusement. Soon these writings found their way into the hands of the Doctor’s Cave Beach Club socialites, and began circling around the island. Eventually one of these stories landed in the lap Abner Rutherford, a renowned American publisher of erotic magazines for men who was vacationing in Kingston.
“I’d like to start putting articles in my magazines LawCarry,” Rutherford had informed Len, “articles and stories. Something to pad the pages between the titties and the cartoons y’know?”
“Riiiiiiight,” responded Len, wary about where this was going, and displeased with the butchering of his surname by the coarse tongue of such an uncouth continental.
“I want your stories to start this off, boy. Whattayasay?”
“Listen, Mr. Rutherford—“
“—I’ll give you ten thousand.”
That’s a very fine offer but—”
Abner Rutherford got his short stories. Len LeCarré got a 1956 Bentley. He offered a fair share of the money to his muse Commander Vaughn, but was flatly rejected.
“Keep your winnings. I’ll die on the company dime,” was all Special Agent Captain Coburn Vaughn said.
Eventually LeCarré was coaxed by friends and admirers into writing a full novel of espionage exploits. The book fared well in England, but was a bit too cerebral for most Americans. That was until a magazine interview with the President of the United States where the leader of the Free World had listed his top-five favorite books. Number three on the list—sandwiched between Hemingway and Machiavelli—was Doctor Thunderpussy, by Len LeCarré. Suddenly the book exploded into the national consciousness, and captivated the public. Although LeCarré thought the President was using a backhand with the Reds in Russia and Cuba when he should’ve been using a fist, he couldn’t help but admit that he owed the man his newfound career as an international bestseller. It was for this very reason that he found the news Vaughn brought to Jamaica so disturbing.
Her Majesty’s Special Agent Captain Coburn Vaughn slinked through doorless entry to the outdoor terrace of the Ska-Ra-Van. Square-jawed and broad-shouldered, he was the sort of man who was striking when standing alone, but could easily slip into anonymity when among a crowd.
“Cobee!” LeCarré called out to his old friend, “sit down, you bastard!”
Vaughn gave a slight grunt and sat himself down across from Len.
“Damn man!” LeCarré exclaimed, “you look like hell. Did Her Majesty run you through with the dirty wash?”
“Something like that,” Vaughn replied with the slightest smirk. “And how the hell are you?”
“What’ve you been doing with yourself?”
“Oh you know, as little as possible.”
“The writer’s life, eh?”
“Indeed. I leave the living to the likes of you, and then I’ll write it down after the smoke’s cleared and the danger’s gone.”
The two men chuckled for a moment.
“Alright, enough small talk,” declared Coburn, “get that damn waiter over here.” The two friends enjoyed a few rounds together, catching up on this thing and that, until the converstation finally hit a standstill.
“So Cobee,” began LeCarré, “where you off to next? Paris? Amersterdam? Tokyo?”
“Texas,” replied Vaughn dismissively.
“Texas? What in blazes for?”
“Listen, Len. I probably shouldn’t talk about it. Especially not with…well…a member of the press.”
“The press?” exclaimed LeCarré, nearly offended, “It’s me Cobee. Your old friend Len, not some damned gossip columnist!”
“Alright. Well promise me this one stays on this terrace. No books or short stories this time.”
“Okay, okay, no stories. Now what is this top secret mission that requires you to make a pilgrimage to the Mecca of Western civilization?”
“The CIA’s gunning for the President Len,” Vaughn replied grimly.
“The President. They’re gonna kill him.”
“That’s crazy. By his own government?”
“Why not? The Farm thinks a Mick Catholic in the White House is as dangerous as a Russian with his finger on the button.”
“ I don’t believe it.”
“Believe it Len. They’re gonna gun him down in the streets and pin it on some lunatic redneck who used to live in the Soviet Union.”
“So you’re going in to stop the shooters then, eh? That should be a jolly romp. Outgun those lawless cowrustlers.”
“It’s not like that Len. Even if Brutus hadn’t slain Caesar on the steps, he would’ve stabbed the bastard once they got inside.”
“So what the hell are you going to do?”
Special Agent Captain Coburn Vaughn looked over each shoulder before pulling a clump of flesh-colored putty out of his pocket and putting down on the table. “We call it Identity Putty,” Vaughn declared.
“Well what does it do?” inquired LeCarré
“Well rubber masks have been used in espionage for years now.”
“Don’t I know it. A tired cliché to say the least. My reader’s would probably have me shot if I used it in another one of my stories.”
“Indeed, and it doesn’t work any better on enemy agents. But this does.” Vaughn took the clump and reformed it into a long angular nose and stuck it on his face. His artistry as a sculptor left much to be desired, but the effect was still surprisingly good—it looked like real skin!
Vaughn continued his demonstration, “We can use the stuff to make brows, chins, ears, cheeks, a whole face.”
“But what if it falls off?” LeCarré.
“After application, the, uh…artist applies a thin veneer over the putty to hold it in place until removal.
“So you’re going to extract the President, and then puddy his face on some poor bastard who has no idea he’s walking into a shooting gallery.”
“That’s right,” replied Vaughn with a slight nod.
“Let them kill a patsy, then blame it on a patsy. Ingenious!”
“The only worry I have,” began Special Agent Vaughn, “is that his wife will notice we’ve switched him for a double.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that,” LeCarré declared dismissively, “Jane Russell or Marilyn Monroe would probably catch on, but the first lady won’t have a clue.”
The two former comrades-in-arms gave a hearty laugh and ordered the next two rounds at once. Before long, they noticed the sun was sliding into the Caribbean.
“Well I must be off old friend,” began Vaughn as he pulled himself out of his chair, “I’m catching the 8 o’clock out of Donald Sangster.”
“Alright, old man. Drop by next time you’re in MoBay.”
“Will do.” Agent Vaughn started for the door.
“Wait, Cobee!” Len LeCarré called out as he lifted the manuscript of his novel from off the table and handed it to Vaughn. “Would you take this to the President? I haven’t sent it to the publisher yet, and I want him to have a read before I do.”
Coburn Vaughn laughed as he was handed a book about himself. “Never read one of these. Are they any good?”
“The stories are ludicrous. But the main character’s an all right chap. He always seems to get the job done in time.”
“Let’s just hope he does,” mused Her Majesty’s Special Agent Captain Coburn Vaughn before disappearing into the dusk.