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The Agent Comes Calling
I used to love my world. The quiet mornings when Vicki slept, snoring in bed while the roast of coffee beans filled the kitchen. There was little money but lots of time, and I took on the blank page like a fresh snowfall. All mine to put tracks in.
That was all before my brain clouded and sputtered like soggy firework. It was beautiful, my fearlessness. Now it was grotesque and mangled, my writing. Every sentence forced and awkward. I was a phony, a one hit wonder. Lucky for me it was one big whopping hit. I began savoring the way the horizon glowed to life with the gift of a new day. Because who knew about tomorrow?
Nevertheless, I continued to hold a tiny vestige of hope that I could get a spark going. And if I found the spark, I could light the fire.
That dampened hope was crushed when, in the middle of my hacking and plundering, an email hit my inbox with the thud of a sandbag. I stared at the message before clicking, hanging on to those last moments of impunity before it all came to an end.
I was impressed with his technology; the old man was with the times I had to give him that. A little research even revealed a twitter account. Reading the proposal again, the writing was not only brilliant, this time it was personal. The day passed and I’d hardly moved. My agent wanted to see me.
I’d lived out the drive for the past 20 years, right down to the marbled frost on the windshield. Every winding turn and bump in the road was mapped out in my head. And the old sea side diner was just as I remembered it.
The lot was empty as I parked. Pulling my slicker tight I scaled the steps and swallowed before I opened the door. The place was empty, except for him, seated, in the back booth, wearing the same dark suit from twenty years ago. I put one boat shoe in front of the other.
“Burton. It’s been a while.”
“You don’t look to good.”
"How’s the prequel? Or is it a sequel?”
II shrugged, refusing to give him the satisfaction. He had everything else. "I have my good days and not so good days.”
A solemn smile.. He looked exactly as I’d remembered, right down to the last mole. I swallowed and he seemed to revel in my flinch.
“My condolences about Vicki.”
My skin prickled. I wasn’t here for small talk.
“Burton Carter, my star client. The heralded bestselling author here in the flesh. You know, I never told you how much I enjoyed your appearance on Oprah. What was that, '92, 93?"
Outside, a rigid wave crashed to the beach. I shifted in my seat and the black eyes glimmered.
“The arthritis?” His large ears wiggled when he spoke. They looked heavy, like they were tugging his hair from his head..
A haggard waitress waltzed over with coffee and attitude. She walked away and we were all alone. I couldn’t believe we were here.
“I wish I’d never found you.” I blurted out. He smacked his lips, his words as smooth as brass.
“They all say that in the end. It’s business, that’s all Burton. Look, you had some talent, but nothing that the world had never seen before. You needed me, and you were all too willing to see it through.”
He pulled out the folder from his satchel and I saw the original contract. Behind it, on a yellowed sheet of 24lb paper were the scared, careful words of that fateful query. My eyes fell shut.
“I gave you twenty years, Burton.”
Where did it go? Those first few months were pure bliss, the writing soared. They couldn't keep the novel on the shelf. The phone rang, there were countless interviews, promotional tours. And then Vicki got sick and it all crumbled away. The writing was a chore, boring and predictable. My mind an abyss of tangled plots and meaningless characters.
I looked up, into the black eyes that read my thoughts. Enough with the waiting.
We stood, two old men looking out at the sea. Twenty years ago I had a future, I had a drive and a will to live. Part of me was happy it was over.
I turned to him.
“What’s next for you?”
“Got a release date for a breakout author.” He gestured towards the boardwalk, where a couple embraced, locked in a kiss. Beside them an overturned bottle of champagne went unnoticed, trails of foam running at their feet.
“He signed it all away?”
A hint of a smile broke across his doddering face, as though he could share one last secret. “It’s going to be big, bigger than yours.”
I turned back to the window where the young writer picked up the champagne, thrusting it towards the sky with a cheer.
“That’s what they said about you.”