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Two Senators—gary Hart and Bill Cohen—enjoy a Second Life by Writing the Double Man

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It was getting to be 4 a.m. on a hot July night, and Bill Cohen (R-Maine) was trying hard to conceal his anger at being trapped in the Senate by yet another filibuster. Glancing across to the Democratic side of the floor, he caught the restless eye of Gary Hart (D-Colorado) and promptly invited his colleague for a cup of coffee. The two men had frequently squared off in defense budget showdowns, but during a junket to the Far East they had discovered a mutual passion for the written word—and now this evening, a distinct antipathy to the spoken one.

“Gary,” Cohen asked, once they’d drawn up chairs in the Senate dining room, “what would you rather be doing if you weren’t here?”

“I’ve always wanted to live abroad and try writing a novel,” said Hart.

“Hell,” replied Cohen, “me too. Since we can’t live abroad, why not write a novel together?”

Why not, indeed. Five years later the notes for a spy thriller, jotted down on a manila envelope that night by the two senators, have become The Double Man (William Morrow, $16.95). Conjured into being during the heavy going of one failed presidential and two successful senatorial campaigns, the collaborators’ yarn features the adventures of Thomas Chandler, a senator from Connecticut of unnamed party affiliation (“He was not a handsome man…but his bearing, the way he walked, identified him as a man in charge”). Chandler sets out to locate the brains behind the gory, machine-gun assassination of the family of the Secretary of State. Soon he’s on the trail of a Soviet mole who has tunneled into the highest reaches of government. Our hero’s quest takes him to Miami, Moscow, Amsterdam and other locales of the film noir and back into history to the assassination of President Kennedy. Aiding and resisting are Chandler’s beautiful but enigmatic lover, the duplicitous director of the CIA, the snakelike head of KGB counterintelligence and, of course, a Deep Throat redux, here named Memory.

Despite its shopworn ingredients, the book has claimed some encouraging early reviews. “If people are surprised,” says Hart, “then it’s because they had such low expectations.” Says Cohen, taking the higher road: “I don’t think of The Double Man as a potboiler, because we wanted to write a serious book. We haven’t yet had to cope with terrorism on a wide scale as they have in Europe and the Middle East. But it’s coming. The dogs are in the street. What happens when personal violence becomes a daily occurrence? What kind of liberties will we have to sacrifice if people place security first?”

Hmmm. The business of apocalypse notwithstanding, it seems likely that readers will be at least as taken with the fires that burn within Thomas Chandler, who has White House aspirations. Hart and Cohen insist, however, that they did not model Chandler on what they saw in the mirror or on the Senate floor. “Knowing the way Washington works,” says Hart, “we went out of our way to avoid setting off a search for Chandler in the real world. There isn’t a real Chandler.”

Actually, given the authors’ busy schedules, it’s remarkable that there is a Thomas Chandler at all. Bolstered by a hefty advance, they finished the first draft of The Double Man at the end of 1981. Over the next few years they continued to write scenes individually and exchange them for comment. Hart toiled in 15-minute snatches, even into last year’s presidential campaign. Cohen wrote most of his drafts—there were eight—on airplanes and at his condo in Portland, Maine. Neither will say who wrote what. As for Chandler’s sex scenes, quips Cohen, “We accept mutual blame and responsibility.”

The two men suggest that the likes of Ludlum and le Carré have little to fear from them. “Writing a novel is a very lonely occupation,” says Cohen. “I wouldn’t want to do it full time.” Hart seems to agree, but broadens the topic. He speaks of “a different kind of person coming into public life,” a sort of Double Man with more than one career. If his forecast is correct, perhaps someone will be writing novels in the White House one day—perhaps Gary Hart himself?