‘How do I know I can trust you?’
Under the circumstances it was a reasonable question. I was sitting in a hotel in Brisbane at two in the morning, wired with jetlag and talking to a guy in London about the potential for him to buy a very expensive item from me on my return to the UK. And, it was clear, he was quite understandably aware of the risks involved in such high-value face-to-face transactions.
‘It’s cool,’ I replied, tapping away at the sales site’s messaging system. ‘I’m an author, with a readership I’d rather not have take me for any sort of fraud. And besides, one of my oldest friends is a very well-respected murder detective whose most famous cases have been the subject of TV drama. He’ll vouch for me.’
‘Ah, that’s OK’, came the reply. ‘I’m Job (slang for police) too.’
Which was, on the face of it, a relief for me too. If what he was saying was true, I could relax as to his bona fides. What did he do, I asked? The answer was both unexpected and thought-provoking.
‘I’m a Metropolitan Police protection officer.’
We chatted a little more and then I made my excuses and bedded down for what was left of the night before I’d have to drag myself into the client’s office for another day at the day job coal face. And just as I was slipping away into sleep, as so often happens at the point when submerging rationality and surfacing dream state meet to compare notes, the lightning bolt of inspiration blazed across what little consciousness remained.
‘He’s a Met protection officer…’ my sleepy subconscious mused, ‘...and he kills drug dealers.’
Just to be clear, he doesn’t kill drug dealers. He’s a supremely nice guy, as I found out when I met him for a coffee and did that deal back in late 2019. We clicked immediately, and when I confided that I had a thriller in mind, in which a Prot (protection) officer sets out to kill his way to the top of the OCG that sold his sister the drugs that killed her, he was pretty much as hooked on the idea as I was. There would obviously be no sharing of operational detail, but he did offer up a host of completely non-sensitive hints and tips as to how Prot works, which inflated my new imagined world into three dimensions. Most of which you can see in the finely detailed police world that the new protagonist was going to inhabit.
And so Michael… sorry, Mickey Bale was born. Not exactly Sergeant Dan (not his real name), but not a million miles distant from my new friend’s utterly relaxed and urbane exterior, which hides, I’m pretty much sure, the ability to visit clear-headed necessary violence on anyone requiring ‘stopping’. Mickey shares with Dan – at least in my head – the ability to deal proportionately but firmly with the minor offender against his principal’s privacy and dignity, while constantly reassessing the potential need to ‘go loud’ if things ‘go to the races’ and the principal’s safety becomes a pressing issue.
It was Dan who tipped me off to the existence of the Lafone Cup, the Met’s boxing championship, which was the moment when Mickey became more than just ‘handy’, but properly fight trained. And while he takes that to new levels with the addition of Mixed Martial Arts skills in book two, Target Zero, there’s at least one scene in his first outing, Nemesis, where he literally has to hand-to-hand fight his way out of a tight spot.
It was Dan who coached me on the various weapons available to Prot and gave me tips – being careful to avoid any operational detail – on the broad nature of protection in volatile overseas locations. Where, he explained, the additional punch of military grade firepower and training might be the difference between success and failure in fending off an assassination attempt. And it was Dan who reminded me of the ubiquitous nature of the humble smoke grenade – although it was my own somewhat limited Territorial experience that gave Mickey the firm belief that you never throw just one smoke grenade, because one is never going to be enough given how little smoke they actually generate!
But it wasn’t just firearms where his consultancy skills were a boon. I outfitted the primary antagonist in Massimo Dutti and was told fair and square that a gangster of Italian heritage would more likely be wearing Gucci or Armani (and, right or not, it sounded authentic enough that Joe Castagna promptly put on a nice Armani shawl neck cardie). Some minor villains were kitted out Roadman-style at Dan’s suggestion, and in fact the only stylistic amendment I wouldn’t make was to change Mickey’s Loake boots, Wrangler Arizonas and Belstaff jacket. Nothing to do with my own choice of outerwear of course. Ahem.
And so I give you Mickey Bale, protagonist of The Protector series. Born in an Australian hotel bed, with life breathed into him by an author with fifteen historical fiction books in his CV and a burning desire to write a thriller, but without a clue as to exactly where to start until the magical moment when serendipitous inspiration struck. And was then polished to perfection by the suggestions of a man who to all intents and purposes is the real Mickey. Even if he doesn’t hunt down drug dealing gang leaders. Probably. Thank you, Dan Monisse. You really are golden.