Friday, February 02, 2007


Across a shimmer of black water, the lights of Seattle pricked a night sky turned to mother of pearl by a full moon.

We were cruising in the dark along the far shore of the suburb of Magnolia, myself and three nice people from California and Indiana. We were in a taxi following convoluted instructions to the home of the Karps, a delightful and eccentric couple who were hosting a party for my publisher, Poisoned Pen Press. Larry Karp is another of their authors, writer of the well-received "The Ragtime Kid".

Life tips you sometimes into some strange places. The home of the Karps is one of them. I should have known when I saw their name painted on the side of the house - The Karps - a painting of a carp beneath it.

Then it was like walking into a museum. A fantasy time-warp of antiques - every available shelf and laying space taken up by literally thousands of collectibles: toys, hedgehogs, wedgewood china, music boxes - large and small. My immediate response was, my God, how do they dust all these? Someone from Arizona, read my mind and said, 'Good job they don't live in the desert. Dust accumulates in drifts by the day.'

Posters and paintings stared at me from out of a distant past.

Windows looked out across the water, unparallelled views towards the city, and the snow-capped mountains beyond.

Two hundred year-old music boxes, engineered with extraordinary precision, rang out across a room cluttered with historical artefacts. I chatted to my publisher, Barbara Peters, and the author with whom I will be appearing jointly at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona, in three weeks, Mary Anna Evans, writer of the Faye Longchamp archaeological mysteries.

This was all just a little unreal. The temperature had fallen nearly thirty degrees (fahrenheit) since I waved goodbye to La Patronne in Southern California earlier that morning - like flying back into winter. But at least the sun had been shining, a dazzle of snow on the mountains, the Pacific northwest a hard steel blue.

From the Renaissance Hotel, perched atop the highest hill in the city, I had made my way down to the Pike Street fish market to banish hunger in a tiny eatery that serves the best clam chowder in the world. A large helping of smoked salmon chowder with sourdough bread did the trick. Then a coffee. I retraced my steps and stopped at one of the half dozen Starbucks I had passed en route. This was, after all, the home of the famous coffee shop chain.

I was struck again, by the similarity of this city, to my home town of Glasgow, and thought of the meeting I had set up for Saturday morning with a friend I hadn't seen in twenty years.

Bill Hill and I were journalists together in Glasgow in the seventies, and we wrote and played music together. But then I went into television. He went into software development. We lost touch. Years later I found out he had been headhunted by Microsoft and now heads up one of their major software research divisions.

Like myself, he is a man who likes to wear the kilt.

Which brings me back to Magnolia, and the PPP reception at the Karp's. In conversation with my hostess, Myra, she mentioned that every time they went to the opera in Seattle they were struck by the sight of a man who always wore the kilt.

'Does he have a big beard?' I asked.

She seemed surprised. 'Yes, he does.'

And does he have dark hair pulled back in a pony tail?

Her eyebrows shot up. 'Well, yes.'

'Then I think, perhaps, you are talking about my old pal, Bill Hill.'

'What an extraordinarily small world,' she said.

I'll find out on Saturday.

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