(Beirut - Elephant Gun)
When all the sackings started, you could see people looking around the newsroom when they were meant to be working, applying the grizzly bear principle. To survive a grizzly bear attack, you didn’t have to run faster than the bear. You just had to run faster than the other person it was chasing. We all did it: you, you’ll go before me, you’ve only been here a year. You, you’re useless, and I don’t know how you’re still here anyway. You, you were safe because you were sleeping with him, but now he’s sacked and all the people who were jealous have scores to settle. You – now you worry me, you toadying bastard.
Frank never looked. He just ploughed away, being Frank, doing his thing. Everyone knew that he had two years to go before his pension kicked in, not that this made him any safer. The new management didn’t care. They didn’t care about Frank, or his pension, or good journalism, or anything that hadn’t been covered in an MBA. But Frank didn’t worry, and when I asked him why not, he gave me his crumpled grin and said that one of two things could happen. Either they left him for the two years, and all was good. Or they sacked him, and he brought out the elephant gun.
Frank had mentioned the elephant gun before, once or twice. No-one knew quite what it was, but when Frank talked about it, he grinned from ear to ear, like he would welcome the opportunity. “Enough to bring down the biggest of beasts,” he said. No-one knew if he was bluffing, but sometimes with these things it doesn’t matter if you are, as long as people know there’s a chance you’re not.
We got to find out at the end of the wettest July on record. I came in to find Frank’s desk empty. Security cleared everything into a cardboard box on the Sunday, took it to his house, told him not to come back and took his security pass off him. We all bitched and swore, but none of us did anything. I called round his with a bottle of Ardbeg, and we sat and he talked about the old times, when everything used to be better. When I got up to go, he said, “hang on a minute,” and he reached under his chair and pulled out a CD and a bundle of papers.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“The elephant gun,” he said. “Fancy pulling the trigger?”
I got sacked too, and I was forty years away from my pension. But between us, we brought down four cabinet ministers and eventually a government, an entire senior layer of the Metropolitan police, four Lords, one Bishop, two judges, and the man who owned our paper and appointed the managers who sacked us, who in turn toppled like dominos. All the other journalists who’d been sacked held a party for us, and after the drunken speeches presented me and Frank with a pith helmet each.