The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep Page 27

Joe said, “Here’s Tanner, Chief.”

“Good. Any trouble with CIA?”

“None there. They followed us, but Phil outran them. He’s good at that.”

“Yes,” the Chief said. “He’s a good man.”

“You want me to stick around?”

“No, that’s all, Joe.”


Joe left and closed the door. The Chief was a round-faced man, bald on top, with fleshy hands that remained in perfect repose on the desk in front of him. The desk was empty of papers. There was a box labeled IN and another labeled OUT. Both were empty. There was a globe on the desk and a map of the world on the wall behind him.

“Evan Michael Tanner,” the Chief said. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Tanner.”

We shook hands. He motioned me to a chair, and I sat down.

“Dallmann’s dead,” he said. “I suppose you knew?”


“Shot down in Dublin, ironically enough. It must have happened just after he passed the papers to you.”

I nodded.

“I suspected you might be Dallmann’s man when we first began to get reports on you. We’re not like the boys at the Central Intelligence Agency, you know. I don’t believe in teamwork. I never have. It may be useful in some types of operations, but not in our type. Do you follow me, Tanner?”

“Yes,” I said.

“I encourage my men to develop their own operatives. Keep them secret, don’t let me know about them. When one of our men goes out on something, he goes alone. If he’s in trouble, he can’t call for help. If he’s caught, I don’t know him. So I didn’t know you were one of Dallmann’s group. I suspected it, as I said, but I wasn’t sure. I became somewhat more certain when we received reports of the incident in Macedonia.” He smiled for the first time. “That was excellent work, Tanner. That was one of the neatest bits of work in years.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“It may well turn out to have been the biggest wedge driven in Yugoslav hegemony since the end of the war. They were astonished when that revolt broke out. Astonished. The last thing anyone expected was a blowup in Macedonia. I know Dallmann had things planned in that area. I suppose that was why you made your first trip to Istanbul?”

“That’s right.”

“And of course that fell in. Brilliant work of yours, picking up Dallmann in Dublin afterward. And then having the nerve to carry through with the Macedonian plans. Most men would have settled for the British papers and brought them straight home. Dallmann would be proud of you, Tanner.”

I didn’t say anything. Dallmann-the tall man-must have guessed I was on his team from the Istanbul fiasco.

The Chief looked down at his hands. “Strange situation in Ireland,” he said. “The Irish filched that set of plans out of London as neat as anything. The British didn’t even know who had them. But we knew and we couldn’t let them stay in Irish hands. Irish security isn’t the best in the world, you know. And those plans were fairly vital. Dallmann took them away in a matter of days. Another power could have done the same thing. We had to do the job first for two reasons. To get them away from the Irish and to teach Downing Street an important lesson in security. First nonsexual security scandal they’ve had in some time. Ought to keep them on their toes, don’t you think?”

We both got a good laugh out of that one.

“The CIA give you a hard time, Tanner?”

“It wasn’t too bad.”

“You don’t sleep, do you? Got that from your records. That must come in handy.”

“It does.”

“Um-hum. Imagine it would. Sorry I had to put you through three weeks of CIA interrogation. Understand you didn’t tell them a thing.”

“I had to give them the plans.”

“Well, that was all right. Couldn’t be helped.” He chuckled. “You must have given them the willies. You know their standard interrogation procedure? Nothing fancy, just let a man fall asleep, then wake him up and question him, then let him drift off to sleep again, then more questioning. They hit you at your weakest point that way. But they couldn’t do that to you, could they?”


“Very handy. Never thought of insomnia as a survival mechanism. Very interesting.”

“Yes, sir.”

He got to his feet. “You have contacts with fringe groups and nut groups throughout the world, don’t you? Professional? Or a sideline?”

“Just a hobby.”

“Valuable one, isn’t it? You do much work for Dallmann?”

“No. Just incidental work before this job. Nothing important.”

“Suspected as much. And yet you maintained discipline all the way, didn’t you? And handled yourself like a professional. Very interesting.”

For a long moment neither of us said anything. Then he came around the desk, and I got to my feet, and we shook hands again.

“What are your plans now, Tanner?”

“I’ll go back to New York.”

“Back to business as usual, eh?”


“Good. Very good.” He thought for a moment. “We might have a piece of work for you now and then.”

“All right.”

“We’re hell to work for. I don’t know exactly what sort of arrangement you had with Dallmann. Doesn’t much matter now, does it? But we’re very hard masters. We give you an assignment and that’s all. We give you no contacts. We don’t smooth the way for you a bit. But at the same time, we don’t ask for reports in triplicate. We don’t want to know what you did or how you did it. We just expect you to deliver the goods. If you get caught somewhere, we never heard of you and you never heard of us. We can’t even fix a parking ticket for you. And if you get killed, we drink a toast to your memory and that’s all. No group insurance. No full-dress funeral with burial in Arlington. Understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“So you might hear from us some time. If something comes up. Sound good to you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I like your style, Tanner. Especially in Macedonia. That was quite a performance.” He smiled again briefly, then turned aside. “You’ll find your own way out. Walk a few blocks before you catch a cab. Might as well go straight back to New York. Don’t ever try to contact me. I suppose you know that much, but I’ll say it anyway. All right?”

“All right.”

“How are you fixed for money?”

“I could use plane fare. I’m out of ready cash.”

“Besides that.”

“I’m all right.” I thought for a moment. “I managed to…uh…pick up a little for myself this trip.”

He laughed aloud. “Just like Dallmann,” he said. “He never even put in for expenses. Said he made a neater profit than we could ever pay him in salary. I like to encourage that sort of thing. Teaches a man to think on his feet. You’ll fit in fine with us, Tanner.”

He gave me two hundred dollars for the plane and incidental expenses. We shook hands a third and final time, and I let myself out.


Evan Michael Tanner was conceived in the summer of 1956, in New York ’s Washington Square Park. But his gestation period ran to a decade.

That summer was my first stay in New York, and what a wonder it was. After a year at Antioch College, I was spending three months in the mailroom at Pines Publications, as part of the school’s work-study program. I shared an apartment on Barrow Street with a couple of other students, and I spent all my time-except for the forty weekly hours my job claimed-hanging out in the Village. Every Sunday afternoon I went to Washington Square, where a couple of hundred people gathered to sing folk songs around the fountain. I spent evenings in coffeehouses, or at somebody’s apartment.

What an astonishing variety of people I met! Back home in Buffalo, people had run the gamut from A to B. (The ones I knew, that is. Buffalo, I found out later, was a pretty rich human landscape, but I didn’t have a clue at the time.)

But in the Village I met socialists and monarchists and Welsh nationalists and Catholic anarchists and, oh, no end of exotics. I met people who worked and people who found other ways of making a living, some of them legal. And I soaked all this up for three months and went back to school, and a year later I started selling stories and dropped out of college to take a job at a literary agency. Then I went back to school and then I dropped out again, and ever since I’ve been writing books, which is to say I’ve found a legal way of making a living without working.

Where’s Tanner in all this?

Hovering, I suspect, somewhere on the edge of thought. And then in 1962, I was back in Buffalo with a wife and a daughter and another daughter on the way, and two facts, apparently unrelated, came to my attention, one right after the other.

Fact One: It is apparently possible for certain rare individuals to live without sleep.

Fact Two: Two hundred fifty years after the death of Queen Anne, the last reigning monarch of the House of Stuart, there was still (in the unlikely person of a German princeling) a Stuart pretender to the English throne.

I picked up the first fact in an article on sleep in Time magazine, the second while browsing the Encyclopedia Britannica. They seemed to go together, and I found myself thinking of a character whose sleep center had been destroyed, and who consequently had an extra eight hours in the day to contend with. What would he do with the extra time? Well, he could learn languages. And what passion would drive him? Why, he’d be plotting and scheming to oust Betty Battenberg, the Hanoverian usurper, and restore the Stuarts to their rightful place on the throne of England.

I put the idea on the back burner, and then I must have unplugged the stove, because it was a couple of more years before Tanner was ready to be born. By then a Stuart restoration was just one of his disparate passions. He was to be a champion of lost causes and irredentist movements, and I was to write eight books about him.

The Thief Who Couldn’t Sleep was Tanner’s debut, and it might never have happened if I hadn’t brought home a dinner guest one evening in 1965. The fellow’s name was Lincoln W. Higgie-Bill to his friends-and he’d recently returned from Turkey, where he’d spent a couple of years earning a precarious living smuggling rare coins and antiquities out of the country. (Precarious because it was illegal; if the authorities caught you they might sentence you to death, which was bad, or throw you into prison, which was demonstrably worse.)

Bill Higgle was a numismatist-if you Google him, you’ll find he wrote a book on the coinage, tokens, and paper money of the Virgin Islands-and I was editing a numismatic magazine at the time. He showed up at the office, I brought him home to dinner, he brought a bottle of Bushmill’s as a hostess gift, we sat up late and drank it, and he told me a story of a horde of gold coins hidden in a house in Balekesir, and of the too-late efforts of a couple of free spirits from Aramco to recover it.

Remarkably, I recalled our conversation the next day. And, more remarkably, I remembered the as-yet unemployed fellow with the damaged sleep center and the passion for lost causes. I put the two together and, well, I hope you’ve enjoyed the result.

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