A Long Time Passing

by Rick Beck

Chapter 2

Book Buyers

It's funny how things can quite unexpectedly impact your life. You never know what to expect next. I suppose that's why you put on the clean underwear, hoping your accident isn't one that causes you to mess them up. I went on to the meeting not knowing anything had changed in my life. Something had changed, and it was something I couldn't escape from.

The food was good, but Todd wouldn't eat any place where it wasn't. He was pleased with the new manuscript. He was sure it would be perfect although he'd never read anything but my synopsis when the idea was developing inside my brain.

"We need to start thinking about your next project, Tom," Todd said.

"I need a breather," I said. "My computer hasn't even cooled down yet."

"We're hot, Tom. Get busy on something I can peddle for you."

"There's nothing behind this one yet. I can't just shift gears like some over the road truck driver,' I said, being a bit offended by the rush. "I'm an artist."

"You're selling. Two years ago you were struggling. We need to follow this up to show you're productive," he said, holding my manuscript up before drawing it out of the envelope to look at the title page.

"Random Rendezvous," he said, drawing the words out through his lips with a smooth musical lilt in his voice.

I knew he was pleased with it. Of course, he was holding a pile of dollar bills rather than my sweat and blood. I had to develop it, craft it, massage the heart of it into a living organism. A story I produced was a piece of me. At times it was a pain in the neck or an unruly child during childbirth, but in the end, it was me thrown in there along with all those random thoughts that ran rampantly around on the inside of my brain, taking form, and finally becoming a book. You didn't just give birth to it, you then had to nurture it for 100,000 words or so.

"A boy tried to get into my car tonight when I was parking," I said, quite out of the blue, and fighting the urge to tell him how adroitly I'd parked parallel to the curb.

"What?" he said, spilling coffee as he tilted the bone cup back away from his lips.

"I was parking over on… on… near Eastern Ave. I'd forgotten to lock my car door before leaving the house. He opened it and got in the car. All I could think of was he wanted the manuscript, something of value."

"I've seen that car, Tom. I doubt he expected much of value to come out of it. Good thing you didn't let him have RR. Did he try to rob you?"

"No! He wanted money. He said he needed ten dollars. He was a kid."

"I need a few thousand if you have any left. I wouldn't get into that car to get it though. He must have been desperate," Todd said, sipping the black nectar as he stared at me over the cup with a most curious look on his face. "Did he get anything?"

"That car's a classic, Mr. Sweeney."

"It's old, Tom. You can afford anything you want."

"He seemed to think I'd stopped for him. He said he waved. I had gone around that block numerous times. He was so young. He thought I stopped for him. Why would he think a thing like that?"

"Cocotte," Todd said emotionless.

"What?" I said, knowing the word but never hearing it spoken out loud before.

"Male demimonde. What about the new book? We need to get serious. Strike while the irons hot, Tom."

"Over," I said.

"Whatever," he said.

"What about a book deal?" I said, still insecure about my well- spaced income with the advance never being far enough advanced for my taste.

"We're in a pretty good position here, Tom. Let's not be too hasty. You've sold two. I can link this book to another one or two, and we'd do middle six figures on both of them. I have this one sold for a solid six-figure payday. They were excited about handling your work. If you bring me another one by early next year, seven figures, and a three-book deal is almost a guarantee at that inflated price. If we go now, you won't get half what you're worth. I can do a deal because you're selling. Everyone wants someone who is selling. I just think we'll have more leverage if we come up with a third one. Proof you are capable of pushing out the merchandise."

"Their books not paint by the numbers, Todd. My bank accounts are almost empty. I have to live, Todd. I can't print money," I said, thinking of the pressure of years past when writing wasn't a profitable venture.

"I'll get a piece of this check to you right away. I'll talk to them when I take the manuscript to them in the morning, and I'll tell them we need some of it right now. I'll tell them you're working n a new book."

"That will work for now. You don't think it's time to be thinking about a contract deal? What if this one doesn't sell?"

"I'm always thinking about it. You've had a nice book published. You've sold your second and I have no doubt it will exceed the first in sales. We need that in our pocket to get you the real deal. I'm keeping an eye on it, Tom. Let me handle this end of the business. That's what you pay me for."

"I suppose. My wife is only doing contract work now. We don't have the income we had when she worked full time," I said.

"I understand that. We'll get you a check. You start working on the next one. We'll be fine, Tom."

I ordered two slices of Black Forest Cake, leaving half of the second piece on my dessert plate. I knew I paid for it in the end, but at least he picked up the check in a pretense that he was buying me dinner. I still needed to do little things like that to make myself feel as though I was in control of the situation. He left with my manuscript, and I worried that my computer, the two copies in my desk on disc, and the two copies in separate safe deposit boxes in different banks were all destroyed at the same time, leaving me without a book.

I had to laugh at that bit of paranoia. If there was one thing I did it was make sure I didn't lose any of my work. After I was dead it would take three archivists ten years to sort through it all. If nothing else I was verbose. I wondered if there might be a next book in some of my old words. I made up my mind I would sort through some of my pre-computer workbooks for ideas. It was then, I noticed I was turning back on the street where I'd left my car and the boy behind. I hadn't lost my car for once.

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