When can you get here?

New York, Thursday, March 8, 2012 by Eric Francis

On a warm spring afternoon in Seattle, I was working in the office of my new apartment in Greenwood Lake. Evening was starting to settle in. My fish tanks, which I had spent the past week moving from Vashon Island, were humming quietly, and the fish seemed to be adapting to their new homes. My friend Lexi and I had moved three aquariums, with a total of 78 fish, without losing a single one on the trip or through the transition.

I watched Rex, my yellow lab cichlid, dig out a den under a rock, gathering an enormous amount of gravel into his mouth and spewing it into a little pile off to the side. As he did this over and over, making a new home for himself, in the newly rearranged aquarium, my thoughts drifted to London — and in particular the Daily Mirror, for which I had been writing horoscopes for a year. I was doing this as a vacation stand-in for Jon Germain, one of the most successful astrologers in England.

Fortunately he liked to take a lot of vacations, and better than that, he liked my writing. Since I started working for him a year earlier, I got the gig steadily, which used to be split among five writers. I went from an audience of a few thousand to several million in one jump. Enough people found out about me that my own subscription business got a sudden lift, and I was the first American horoscope writer to get anywhere near Fleet Street in decades. Now I was swimming in that world of racy, colorful daily papers most of which were scandal sheets.

Yet one thing every London newspaper had, and there were about 10 of them, was its own horoscope writer. Many were excellent and none of them bad. Even Mystic Meg, who proper astrologers made fun of, had some apropos advice or piece of wit each day.

Soon, Jon would be switching newspapers to the Mail. The switch was supposed to happen five months earlier, but the Mirror had sued the Mail to enforce a six-month notice provision in Jon’s contract — and won. This was a coup for the Mirror, a smaller paper with roots in the Labour Party, the liberal wing of English politics.

It occurred to me that I hadn’t heard news of Jon’s replacement, when he switched papers in a month. I knew I could do the job, and I knew I wanted it. It seemed obvious — this is how it happens; this is how you get your break.

I swung around in my chair and typed a note to Nick, basically my boss at Jon’s business operation. Nick worked managing the flow of content to the different newspapers and onto the website, which had a massive global audience. He edited Jon’s horoscopes and mine when I was standing in. He was more like a confederate than a boss, and I knew he was grateful that I had my act together. My copy came in on time and in good shape. I could work on a day’s notice or less. (In fact, my commitment was that I write do a daily horoscope for them on two hours’ notice.) We had a good relationship.

I sent a one line message: “Nick, have they found a new horoscope writer at the Mirror yet?”

He was at peak work hours editing that evening’s update, moving fast as ever. A moment later I got a note back: “No, they have not. I suggest you write to Jon.”

He knew exactly what I was talking about. The conspiracy had begun. If they didn’t have someone in line, I still had a chance at the job when Jon moved newspapers, which was inevitable — he was moving onto bigger and better. He would want to choose his successor, no doubt.

I typed: “Jon, I’ve heard there’s nobody lined up at the Mirror. What do you think?”

About 10 minutes later, I got a reply: “When can you get here?”

I typed: “I can leave Sunday.” I paused for a moment, considering how that would give me three days to prepare. I knew I could do it.

I pushed send. Promise made.

Then I did a quick search for flights. Price was no object; I was going to London. One listing came back on the first page — departing 11 pm Sunday out of Sea-Tac to JFK, where I would change planes and arrive London Gatwick the next morning, flying east, into the Sun, the whole night. The price was $555, astonishingly cheap for just two days out. I purchased the ticket on my prestigious Wa Mu card. Then I typed another note.

“Jon, arrive Gatwick 10 am Monday, Virgin.”

“I’ll have a car waiting for you outside the terminal. You’ll be standing in next week though I’m not going anywhere. Nick will send schedule. Good night. – jg”