K. Wilson James
Copyright © 2001 All Rights
Zepto was drunk. Again.
looked blearily at the countertop in front of him, the same countertop where he
sat every time he binged at Divine Molly’s.
Torbin had no idea who Divine Molly was, of course.
Nobody did—the bartender’s name was Frederick, the owner was a guy
named Christopherson; even the developer had a name like...like...well, Torbin
couldn't remember the developer’s name offhand. But he knew it wasn’t Molly.
And it wasn’t important. Not
tonight. Torbin knew not to weary
his addled brain with trivialities tonight, tonight of all nights.
He focused his hazy vision on the four pint glasses that stood in a
haphazard zigzag. An elated fizz
filled him. And this time it
wasn’t the beer.
payback time, fellas, he
sounded good to Torbin. He had
finally done the deed, and now Sunny was going to deliver.
In precisely twelve minutes, Sunny would stride into Divine Molly’s
with her liberated-woman gait…and deliver.
In twelve minutes. It felt
like twelve years. Torbin leaned
his elbow languidly into a puddle of Bud and cursed.
then, is my bliss. And this too, is my damnation.
was a tall scruffy grad student who was perpetually unruffled, and never did bar
business without a lit Red in mouth. Ash
peppered Frederick’s t-shirt as he spoke to Torbin, who chose to ignore the
deliberate mispronunciation of his name.
said, ‘damnit.’ Try and clean your countertops once every decade.”
inhaled a long contemplative drag on his Marlboro, making the pseudo-analytic
face that Torbin imagined he gave to his college coursework.
Philosophy major; Freudian theory and Wordsworth poems, Torbin
man. Whata you all riled up about,
Zebco? Can’t be just the
name is not Zebco, you half-wit!”
thing to be riled up about,” deadpanned Frederick, barely containing his
shut your hole,” Torbin retorted boozily, hunching away from Frederick and
checking the clock. Nine minutes.
Hurry up, Sunny.
Hurry up, clock.
Frederick…zat clock work?”
had begun to polish empty martini glasses, and now looked up at Torbin
condescendingly, feigning pity.
You see that skinny hand? It’s
ticking, isn’t it? Still moving. See, there it goes…‘I think I can, I think I can.’
Up, up, up…yeah, I think it’s workin,’ old boy.”
managed a woozy glare before his measured response, almost whispered to keep
himself from beating the young loafer over the head with a beer glass.
it slow…or is fast?”
the sole purpose of irritating him, Frederick exhaled a throatful of smoke in
Torbin’s face before speaking.
I’d say it’s right on time, so you’c’n simmer down, shooter—you got an
appointment or somethin’?”
shifted on his stool. Grunted,
In about eight minutes. Gimme
please,” wheedled Frederick.
chuckled as he pitched his cigarette into the sink and poured Torbin another
beer, nonchalantly sloshing a fifth of it out of the glass. Torbin straightened up from his drunken slouch, now in a
moment of drunken indignance. He
recklessly jabbed the air with his forefinger, attempting to make a point.
Fred’rick…I pay you to put at least a teaspoon of it in
the glass. Why don’t you actually
do it, and make my two bucks worth it?”
you get so drunk if you got an appointment?
This is the fifth time this month you’ve gotten sloshed and then had an
can’t you ever answer a question without asking another one?”
pretty witty for a drunk bastard.”
kept quiet as he watched Frederick light up another Red.
He didn’t want to waste any more energy. He rested his head on the countertop, in the crook of his
left elbow, and pushed his eyes as far up in their sockets as they would go so
he could check the wall clock. Five
minutes. Typical, Sunny—you’ll be here.
Right on time. Why can’t
you be early, just once? He
just wanted her to get here. Now.
It amazed Torbin that Sunny was so contemptible that her dark shiny hair
and big breasts had absolutely no effect on him.
In fact, actually anticipating her arrival—now, that’d be a cold day
in hell. And
today just so happens to be one day of the year when good ol’ Frederick
decides to crank the AC and the
ceiling fan, just to annoy me.
thought sourly, but decided against nagging Frederick to turn off the fan.
He decided he’d rather give Frederick a blowjob than give Frederick the
sublime satisfaction of withholding decent room temperature from a customer.
gloomily reflected on how many times he had slouched on this same barstool,
pondering his unfortunate circumstances. But
tonight—tonight might be the night. The
night that gave his problems a prayer of being solved.
Not that he didn’t have his misgivings.
Some fearful shadowy corner of Torbin’s psyche was on the verge of
popping out of obscurity and convincing him that he should stagger back home and
stand her up. A minuscule
fatalistic part of him wished that she would be late, or just forget to
show—because although his deed was done, he wasn’t satisfied.
It wasn’t good enough. He
needed more time. More time to
construct what where viable reasons to him and drunken excuses to Sunny.
Walking out, though—that would be just stupid. It was toying with
the prospect of fatalism that was tragically romantic, Torbin concluded, rather
than actually being fatalistic. Yeah,
I’m staying right here. For
the—what? The fifth time? Yeah.
And I’ll wait until she shows up.
Hurry, Sunny…hurry…the one time…when the deed’s done…when I
want her here early…because tonight might be it…
Fred’rick. You ‘member the last
time I met Sunny here?”
That her name?”
actually, that’s just her CB handle…she’s a truckdriver, y’know.”
lips formed an exaggerated ‘O’ shape as he bent down to look for a rag in
the counter’s cavity.
Tell her I want one of those Graceland lighters next time she gets to
was being sarcastic, imbecile.”
noticed with much consternation that when Frederick stood up, he chose that
moment to be accommodating and decent. Arrogant
clowns like him didn’t tend to be either.
They tended to be guffawing schmucks who laughed at their own jokes
because nobody else would. And they
tended to be young. But
Frederick’s straightforward and apparently sincere reaction came anyway.
I remember. Your appointments have
been in that corner every single time so far.
And all I heard was buncha yelling.
Didn’t catch much, because y’all were here on Friday.
Busy night, ‘snot like Wednesday.
You never come in here b’fore on a Wednesday. Why so anxious to share a Wednesday night with me and an
empty bar? What is that you do,
anyway, to where you need weekly meetings?”
Jesus on a kebab, Fred’rick. If
you end another statement with a question…,” raved Torbin, downing a third
of his beer in one gulp.
a statement with a question.’ Man,
Zebco, you are drunk. ‘Cause if it’s one thing I learned in elementary school,
it’s that a statement doesn’t end a question.
It ends in a period. And all
I wanted to know is what you do for a living that requires weekly meetings with
a chick named Sunny. That’s it,
brother. ‘N no more grammar
lectures if you tell me.”
refused to dignify that little gem with a reply.
He fidgeted and lifted his bloodshot eyes to the clock behind Frederick
once more. Two minutes. Come on,
large grin, somehow both dopey and catlike, slid across Frederick’s face.
Torbin was only slightly amused. He
thinks he’s onto something. This
should be rich.
Let’s play detective here,” drawled Frederick. “Ah ha…You’re the one they was lookin’ for when that
uptown boutique scandal went public. Yeah,
yeah…I got your number, buddy.”
rested his chin in his left hand. Stared
impassively and silently at Frederick, who removed the Red from his mouth like
gay man, with two fingers in a stiff sideways peace sign, thumb tucked daintily
under. Torbin suspected that this
was unconscious insinuation of competence.
He noticed that fairly often, smart-aleck shitheads like Frederick got
their imitations of savoir faire from gay men.
Because gay men get the girls and
Frederick could probably use one of those.
Torbin smiled a tipsy grin.
Frederick was oblivious
to the wayward musings that dawdled through Torbin’s intoxicated brain.
He leaned against the back counter casually, taking a deep drag on his
Red. Gangly right leg crossed over the left, eyebrows raised.
In a frenzy of melodramatic theatrics, his face sagged into a pitying
Got it. I figured it out. Easy. AA.
That’s what it is. AA meetings.”
meetings in a bar, stone drunk every time.
You got it, Freddo,” Torbin intoned fuzzily as he thumped his forehead
lightly on the counter and kept it there. On
the way down, he saw the clock again. One
minute. Keep breathing.
Tonight’s the night.
lapsed into an easy silence, appearing to forget the joke.
He chews his lip like a retard, Torbin noted upon lifting his head.
a gigolo. Aren’t you.”
raised his head a little farther and saw that Frederick’s eyes were still
focused on some vague point in space. It
was like he had never spoken at all. And
it sounded completely serious. Torbin
knew it wasn’t, of course, but was shaken by the fact that Frederick did not
even raise his voice at ‘aren’t you.’
Unusual for someone asking a question.
Doubly unusual for a rabid serial interrogator like Frederick.
Torbin rested his head back on the countertop and actually answered the
deadpan jest. To his own surprise.
be surprised at how close that guess is.”
be surprised at how close that guess is’?
Did I have
to say that?
had no time to reply. Their thrust
and parry was cut short by the sound of no-nonsense staccato taps marching into
Divine Molly’s. High heels.
Torbin didn’t have to raise his head.
Or turn around. He knew.
let out a mirthless well-I’ll-be-damned chuckle, realizing who had just walked
into his bar. Torbin cringed
pretend he has no idea.
I can do for you tonight?”
sighed morosely. You know your life’s in a rut when your bartender gets predictable, he
strident voice cut through the smoky air. As
soon as her angry anti-greeting reached his ears, Torbin realized that Sunny had
ignored Frederick. He sat up.
Frederick wasn’t used to being ignored.
He huffed indignantly on his Red. Said
nothing. He was already ambling away from Torbin, attempting to ferret
out a glass that hadn’t been polished. As
Frederick went, Torbin caught his amused raised-eyebrows expression and felt
hotly defeated—the skinner little greaser was going to hear every word, and
caw relentlessly about it later. Yeah,
yeah, keep grinning, punk. There’s
nothing funnier than a plastered writer who’s apparently in serious trouble
with his agent.
From his peripheral vision, Torbin saw her slim briefcase slam down in
the seat of the barstool to his right. To
him, that urgent sound proclaimed that this meeting would probably be a failure.
Just like that last one. And
the one before that. Torbin
realized that being obstinate would be futile.
With her, it always was. It
would be even worse this time. He
was now faced with an angry Sunny. A
very angry Sunny, who would tell him exactly what he didn’t want to hear. No doubt. The
beer sloshed in his stomach. The
fact that his previous anticipation was utter horseshit was now almost painful.
He swiveled his head toward Sunny. Made
a feeble attempt to delay her hissy fit.
Sun…Have a beer,” Torbin slurred.
believe you.” Sunny’s dark eyes
glittered balefully. Torbin
recognized that gleam. In fact, he
thought that admonishing malevolent glimmer was what made her curves matronly. Not sexy. Like
a crabby librarian. Her
attitude wasn’t enough to subdue him, though.
mean, you don’t believe me? You’re
in a bar, Sun. Bars have beer. Ask Frederick.”
don’t want beer! Why are you drunk? For
the fifth time in—what? A
month?” Sunny shook her head,
tossing her briefcase on the countertop with a clank and sliding onto the stool.
should get drunk too. These fun
little chats would be even better if—”
up. I don’t want to deal with
your antics tonight. So you keep your mouth shut,
while I talk.
steely glare all but singed Torbin’s retinas in the instant she locked eyes
with him. Her over-emphatic verbal
confrontation was usually mildly funny, but tonight was different. Torbin sullenly rubbed one temple and mumbled, “Clear, boss
briefcase clacked open. His spirits
shriveled further at the sound of rustling papers.
Office-white forms, legalese marching neatly and murderously across them.
He slouched on his stool, wanting to stagger back home.
Ready to welcome his post-binge ritual of tripping on the cat, puking and
then going to bed. Four blocks to
the loft, a couple hundred miles to the cabin in Maine.
Both seemed equally distant right now.
Right now—angry Sunny and a briefcase full of white papers.
That was right now.
whiteness of the document nearly blinded Torbin.
He blinked, brought the pint glass to his lips.
Turned his head away before his blurry vision could comprehend.
Just to disgust Sunny, he spit.
me another beer and maybe I will.”
Sunny’s left wrist snapped the paper-clipped bundle across his face
with lightning speed. From the far
end of the countertop, Frederick sniggered impishly.
Torbin recoiled sluggishly. My
life’s fizzing away like that Alka-Seltzer Jamie threw in the toilet last
year…and Sunny Ritz is getting off on assaulting me—God, I hate that
woman! He made every effort to
yell at her, but only managed a dull slur, complete with spewing saliva.
want to know what you are, Sun? You’re
a real—a real—”
bitch? Is that what I am, Torbin?
Well, yeah, that’s exactly what I am! And
I think I have a right to be! Think
about it—I’m your agent. You’re
the best Victor Erickson’s got. And
you want to know why? Because you
make the most money! And that means
Erickson’s publishing house makes money!
That means Erickson is just thrilled when his publishing house rakes in
more than HarperCollins! And do you
know what that means? That means I
make more money—all because people buy your stuff…For some inexplicable
reason, the American public just eats up anything you crank out!
In short, everybody’s rich and everybody’s happy if you do everything
you’re supposed to! That’s the
simple truth right there, and I’d really like to keep things that way!”
eyelids hung lazily at half-mast. You’d
like to keep things that way? Well,
how nice. Ha—you’d like to keep yourself in that penthouse, is what
you’d like to keep. He knew
otherwise, though. The money was
her trump card; somehow, he knew it wasn’t all materialism with Sunny.
But he promised himself he wouldn’t give in yet. The
white paper Sunny clenched in her fist still wavered in front of his eyes.
he whined. “What do you want?”
smacked her right hand against the countertop, pewter ring making a high-pitched
crack. Her damp overcoat and red
silk scarf rustled impatiently, in synch with her movements.
She rolled her eyes toward the dim fixtures on the ceiling.
Made a manicured claw out of her hand, giving the virgin-smooth document
some wrinkles. She didn’t notice.
I want your book! I want your book now! It
was slated to be presented to Editorial a month ago! A month ago! When
I talked to you then, you told me it wasn’t through. Finishing touches or something like that.
At our second meeting, you said it still wasn’t through.
You said that two more times! And
you were drunk. Every…single…time. Last week, you were so plastered I bet you don’t even
remember what I said—tonight’s your last chance!
Tonight’s it, Torbin. No
book, no contract! Which would be a
real shame, you know that? All
those awards, eighteen million copies, a book tour and a bunch of special
favors—you’re going to let yourself be has-been just so you can putz around
in a crummy bar and complain about your life?
Go for it; by all means! Go
be a dirty old bum! Nobody in the
entire publishing industry has time to wait for you!
Nobody needs an unreliable drunk! You
have a three-book deal, Torbin, and this is your third!
How hard is it to finish the thing, stop annoying everyone—most notably
Erickson—and get your contract renewed? Huh?
How hard is that?”
words flew through his drunk mind, swirling painfully like razors in a washing
machine. He realized what her left
hand was crushing. His contract.
The one he had signed seven years ago.
When he was young and naïve and believed his stuff was high art.
When he actually believed in art. And now look at me. The
a stereotype. And Sunny won’t let
me forget it till she her way. Agents—gold-diggers.
But—if I don’t give her my manuscript tonight, my contract won’t be
renewed. I have to turn it in.
I need the contract. I owe
something to Cyril. And Jamie’ll
breathe down my neck and may break it if I don’t pay alimony and child support
and everything else she nailed me with. Compulsive
psycho. But Cyril’s my boy.
“No book, no contract.” I
have it. It’s done.
I did the deed. He tried
to take another sip of beer, but his aim was off.
He gulped air as his lips searched for the edge of his glass.
have it. At my apar’ment. My loft. It’s
features grudgingly unwound. She
clicked her burgundy acrylic tips on the countertop.
loft. Not here.”
watched her chestnut coif shake exasperatedly as he tried formulate a response.
He made his vision shift to the wall menu past his garden of beer
glasses. He was in dire need of a
focal point that wasn’t Sunny Ritz. But instead of a lit-up drink list stained with
god-knew-what, he now faced Gene Simmons. Tongue
lolling. In full KISS regalia.
On a t-shirt. Frederick’s t-shirt. Frederick.
that grin off your face, Freddo.”
feline face contorted further into gleeful wickedness, looking demonic as he
exhaled smoke through his nostrils. He
intentionally ignored Torbin, and focused his attention on Sunny, turning the
Smarmy Customer Service Dial up to full volume.
is there anything I can get you? A
drink? Bloody Mary, maybe?
House special tonight, ma’am.”
wondered why Frederick felt the need to talk like John Wayne every time
something with breasts wasn’t immediately off-put by him.
We’re trying to have a meeting. Ma’am
here does not want a Bloody Mary. Especially
your Bloody Mary.”
no-nonsense nails beat on the countertop again.
She overrode Torbin with an irritated exhalation.
I’d like a Sprite. Diet if you
have it, please.”
if you have it,’” Torbin mimicked nasally.
it, Zebco. What’d you win awards
for, anyway? I bet it’s gardening
manuals. Or those Dummies
books. Or some journalistic
milestone that everybody and his mother knows nothing about.”
you told me to can it,” muttered Torbin.
Simmons’ face crumpled as Frederick stooped to steeple his elbows on the
countertop, propping his scruffy chin in his hands.
Dragging on his Red without touching it.
come on…what you worried about? That
I’ll think your prizewinning work of art sucks the big one?
Don’t worry your drunk little head over my verdict, Zebco…chances are, I’ve never even heard of it.”
manicured cadence sliced the smoky air once again.
me. My Sprite?”
yeah, diet if I have it, right?”
mouth constricted into an unamused little pucker.
Torbin couldn’t resist a snort. He
anticipated a volley or seven between Sunny and Frederick—Sunny hated
insolence. I’ll be here till I’m stone-cold sober if that moron aggravates her.
Sunny cleared her throat, noisy and businesslike.
Like her nails. She watched
expectantly as Frederick counted his meager tips.
goody. More dib-bulb input from
everybody’s favorite bartender. Way
to go, Freddo. Torbin
fidgeted on his stool, not as grateful for being forgotten as he had imagined.
Sunny stretched her face into a falsely cheery, slightly patronizing
Diet if y—”
yeah, yeah, diet if I have it. I
just missed it the first two times, y’know.”
didn’t wait for her reply. He
straightened himself as slowly as he could, making sure that Gene Simmons was
completely wrinkle-free before reluctantly bending down to search for a Sprite
in the bowels of the counter. Torbin
was quietly agog, and not without some admiration.
In his world, nobody treated people like Sunny Ritz that way.
Especially grungy bartenders. But
here was Frederick. Casually
rising. Clunking the warm can in front of Sunny.
No glass. No ice.
Torbin felt a crazy need to laugh.
round Chanel-ed lips popped open in a disbelieving pout.
Torbin was hopeful as he watched Frederick lope away down the length of
the counter. He never thought
he’d actually be grateful for the good-for-nothing greaseball.
Freddo…the longer she spends grousing about your bad service, the less time
she spends making my life miserable.
enthusiasm didn’t last.
looked at her. Stared into her
eyes, trying in vain to detect even a morsel of merriment.
Yep, she means business.
He gestured with a slack hand toward her unopened Sprite.
Sun, that’s Sprite’s not diet. You
might want to get Fred’r—”
you want me to walk to my loft and pick it up?
Or what? ‘Cause I—”
slouched low, feeling drool collect on his lower lip as he forced
himself to look at her. If he had a
tail, it would be between his legs. Great. Pity…pity…get
her to feel sorry for you. That
haven’t had a decent waking hour in about five months…c’mon…”
features softened into the look Torbin imagined she adopted whenever she saw
those Save the Children ads. Hey, whining actually works. Too
bad I actually do feel
sorry for myself.
slucked the saliva from his bottom lip the instant before it plopped to the
countertop. When isn’t it Jamie?
He gave a sarcastic snort.
you wonder why I’m drunk all the time.”
rolled her eyes slowly skyward and let soft, patient tones creep into her voice.
Torbin didn’t usually concern himself with other people’s karmic
processes, but he couldn’t shake the assumption that Sunny had been an
ingratiating relationships counselor in a past life.
aren’t you glad? Glad you don’t
have to deal with her anymore? From
what I’ve heard, it didn’t sound like she was conducive to your productivity
in the work environment.”
to productivity?’ Future
reference, Sun—ixnay on the psychobabble sludge, OK?
Jamie ruins my life and my
‘work environment’…whether she’s here…or whether she’s in
California,” Torbin slurred matter-of-factly.
He wondered if Sunny would be able to see through it.
You miss him, don’t you?”
slowly lowered his forehead to the countertop.
He almost never had conversations with Sunny without trading insults.
This was new. And he was too
drunk to appreciate its shock value. Sunny Ritz—a human ‘how do you feel’ Geiger
counter. How sweet.
of the Obvious strikes again.”
didn’t avert her eyes. Or offer
any sign of irritation at Torbin’s sardonicism.
She replied with Torbin’s least favorite question.
you want to talk about it?”
I hate that question. Definitely
worse than how do
Dr. Laura, I don’t want to talk about it.
Let me put it this way…would you
like to talk about it if the devil incarnate took your kid to California and
then demanded disgusting amounts of alimony?
And then complained every time you wanted to see him?
And then tried to bilk you for
all you’re worth with alimony? Did I already say that?
Yeah. I did.
Would you want to talk about it, Sun?”
felt momentary satisfaction. He
always did after a good rant. And
Sunny’s open-mouthed bleeding-heart expression was enough to make him almost
glad his life was so pathetic. He
watched her long, moisturized fingers wind around her unopened Sprite can before
incarnate,’ huh? How long were
years, huh? What…I mean,
why…well, how did you two, ah…?”
happened between us?’ ‘Zat
what you’re trying to say?”
leaned forward and let himself free-fall onto the countertop.
The sound of his forehead thumping against the varnish made Sunny flinch.
Well, good. All I want to
do is go home. Send Dr. Joyce
Brothers on her merry way and go home. Without
having an in-depth Jamie discussion. He
closed his eyes. Heard Sunny’s
outerwear rustle. He knew she was
going to make every effort to probe tactfully.
ah…I sense that you don’t know what happened…maybe?”
this. Well, how deep. And the Lifetime Achievement Award for Redundancy goes to…
Answer my question, and at least try
to act like you’re alive!”
raised his head slowly. Drug his
wrist slowly across his soggy lower lip.
want to know what happened, Sun? I
really couldn’t tell you! I
couldn’t tell you what happened with me and Jamie.
Oh—oh, I’m sure it’s prob’ly my fault or whatever, but—but I
mean, come on! One day she’s
talking about life insurance…parenting programs…mortgages.
Real Brady Bunch stuff, you know? Then,
a month later, the old folks on the fifth floor can hear her screaming about how
inadequate I am. She had this huge
fit—threw a whole bottle of my Alka-Seltzer down the toilet.
Said she never should have
attempted a family unit with an irresponsible writer.
‘Attempted a family unit.’ That’s how she put it.
Jamie’s one of those flaky yoga people.
Too bad I didn’t figure that out before
she slapped me with alimony and took my son to…to…La
ranting recessed to the inside of his head.
Yeah, La Jolla—definitely a
higher percentage of vegetarian yoga freaks…
Sunny took advantage of his silence.
eyebrows peaked cluelessly. Go home? That’s it?
Go home? Am I that
pathetic? He didn’t open his
mouth, hoping Sunny had a motive other than pity.
home. Get your manuscript…and
bring it back. Then you can get
some rest, get your contract renewed…”
tilted his head backward, staring at the water-stained ceiling. He resigned himself to the inevitable. Reached down toward the rungs of the barstool, where his
trenchcoat was draped. He fumbled
in its folds. What he pulled out
clattered onto the countertop. Thirteen
black floppy disks, bound with a twisted rubber band. Torbin laggardly scratched his head.
one’s got a chapter on it.”
the deed. It’s done.
I don’t know whether to shoot myself or shoot Sunny.
are the most difficult person I’ve ever met.
Without a doubt.”
why you never followed that agent
trend—sleeping with your richest client. Being difficult has its advantages.
did you waste all that time? You
told me you left it at your loft!”
eyes roamed the room. Obviously, Sunny doesn’t understand the deeply personal process of
I s’pose I could have given it to you when you asked for it—instead of
stringing you along—and you would have left, and I’d be smashed in
peace…but I can’t help it, Sun. I
love torture, what can I say?”
didn’t reply. Her lips slipped
downward into a schoolmarm scowl. She
picked up the bundle of disks and tossed it into her still-open briefcase. Her coat crackled decisively as she buttoned it.
The dim barroom light hazed in Torbin’s eyes.
He slouched in relief. Or
By Friday Erickson will treating me to lunch and clapping me on the back
for my ‘oustanding contribution.’ Except
that it’s mediocre. At best.
God, I’m selling myself. Dirtball
Frederick was actually right—I’m a gigolo.
refocused his vision at the sound of her voice.
Sunny was frozen.
Her eyes were locked on him. Her
mouth worked in circles of bothered bemusement.
needs an exorcist.
I…I didn’t say anything.”
twitched her head like an itchy mare. Emitted
an incredulous half-laugh.
said, ‘I’m a gigolo.’”
what prompted that?”
watched her ease back onto her barstool.
you have what you came for. You
have the chapters. You plan to
leave now? Or stay for another
round of twenty questions?”
the first time since Sunny marched into Divine Molly’s, she seemed
unconfident. Unsure of where to put
her hands. They flitted over her
hair and lighted on her red scarf.
just escapes me as to why you would claim to be a gigolo…that’s all. Particularly when you haven’t been spoken to.”
devil made me do it.”
head landed on the countertop with even more velocity than before. Isn’t that typical of
Sunny? She wants an explanation for
one lousy off-color remark.
One… He spoke again.
just popped out, Sun. Come
on—don’t you ever do that? Think
something completely mindless and then—much to your astonishment—you say it?
Huh? Don’t you ever do
withdrew an enlightened inhalation.
I understand that. But what baffles me is why on earth ‘I’m a gigolo’ just
I tell you, will you leave? I just
hope Frederick’s not around to hear me bleed.
lifted his head. Pivoted his chin
left and right. The greasy
bartender was nowhere in sight.
really want to know why I’m a gigolo? You’d
really like to know why that just popped out?
Why I’ve been drunk five times in the last month?
OK. I’ll tell you.
My son is in California. My
ex-wife is like one of those exploding cigars.
I need a contract. For them.
But my book’s lousy. I
know it. Erickson’ll know it.
But everybody’ll buy it. It’ll
be everywhere. Talk shows,
bestseller lists. And they’ll lie
through their teeth just so they can sell me to their readers and their viewers. You get that? I
didn’t write anything I’m proud of. But
I’m selling it. So they can sell
me. I need a contract, Sun.
started to laugh. An
uncharacteristic girlish giggle.
laughing at me. How sympathetic.
no one really gets it. You know
that, don’t you?”
an agent. The only thing you need
to get is money.”
laughter died dutifully. But the
ghost of a winsome grin betrayed her.
well, well. If isn’t Mr. Zebco
and his lady friend. You enjoy that
little interlude without me?”
for me that Frederick never seems to hear anything important before he
interrupts. But too bad for
him—yeah, he’s cursed.
eyes remained centered on Torbin. Frederick
Nobody knows anything. Really.
Erickson, all his pawns. They
don’t know anything. Even if your
book is trash compared to your last four—they won’t care.”
was torn. I
can’t believe Sunny’s completely ignoring him.
I want to look at him…catch his reaction. But this is just too good—if we both ignore him, I
wouldn’t be surprised if he starts melting.
What you’re saying is that they’ll still love the garbage I produce
because I make them money.”
clicked her tongue.
I’m saying they’ll love the garbage you produce—if indeed it is
garbage—because you’re an illusion. All
these great works, and they don’t
know you—you’re a recluse.
Your pseudonym is nothing like your real name.
You don’t do interviews—except for that one Esquire
spread…but those pictures aren’t exactly dead giveaways.
Anyway—you haven’t had a jacket photo since your first book.
Most of your fans probably don’t even know what you look like.
You don’t even make public appearances.
You’re—you’re just this shrouded figure behind the pages—so your
work will always have an allure. That’s
your selling point, Torbin. Nobody
knows anything about you as a human being…and they don’t care.
So quit worrying.”
now they’re stuck with a bad book and
nobody to blame it on,” Torbin grunted. “I
don’t see your logic.”
You want another beer?”
reluctantly faced Frederick. Gene
Simmons was rumpled again. In fact,
Frederick’s entire demeanor was rumpled.
Ha—watch him starve when the
world doesn’t revolve around him. God,
I take it back…he’s not cursed. He
is a curse.
A festering pustule.
wagged his head slowly.
I think I’m wasted enough. And—and
has anybody ever told you that it’s a very unattractive habit to pop up out of
hell—or wherever you come from—and interrupt a serious conversation?
And how ‘bout counting your tips in public?
That’s rude. And calling
me Zebco. I ever tell you that’s
impolite? Actually, I ever tell you
leaned against the back counter and yawned.
He drug on his Red and sent the smoke streaming out his nose. Fished out a diminutive wad of crumpled bills and began to
thumb through them.
what you’re saying…Zebco…is that
you want me to leave you alone. I’m
chuckled, almost involuntarily. I can’t believe I’m laughing at him; the weasel.
pressure on Torbin’s right cheek forced his head around ninety degrees.
God. She’s touching me.
And she’s ignoring Frederick again.
you hear anything I said? Forget
Jamie. Please. Forget
how bad you think your book is.”
same vague laugh escaped him. Her
cold fingers laced his face. Bizarre. Erotically
even though your face is on the wall at Barnes & Noble…it’s not—it’s
not—you! Don’t you get it? You’re selling Kramer Jacobs!
Not yourself—Kramer Jacobs.
It’s a just name. It’s
what people buy. You’re not a
gigolo—they buy Kramer Jacobs…not you.”
outburst shattered the enchantment. Or
whatever it was. Sunny and Torbin
took in Frederick as if they had never seen him before.
Sunny studied Frederick’s paralyzed features. She deduced. Turned
didn’t know? That you’re Kramer
what tipped you off? Could have
been when he said he thought I wrote gardening manuals.
Or did you think he was joking?”
nodded mutely. Admiration sneaked
into her incredulity. She shook her
interrupted with more good nature than he’d intended.
of the reasons I never wanted to sleep with you.”
to sleep with me?
Is that past tense for a reason…or did I just miss something?
another word, she clicked her briefcase shut and strode purposefully out of
Divine Molly’s. How
about that. The most abysmal binge
of my life ends with a sort-of proposition from…Sunny.
The more frightening thing? I
may start to like agent trends. And
Freddo the Pest actually knows who Kramer
Jacobs is, and lo and behold, seems impressed—who’d believe that he would
turn out to be a closet literati? But maybe this isn’t happening. What’s that cliché about dreams being better than reality?
still here, so I must be awake.
met Frederick’s wide-eyed gape. No
trace of wise-guy wit. Not one iota
of impassivity. Last
week he proclaimed that God is
dead, and now he’s looking at me like he thinks I made the world in seven
days. Unbelievable. Frederick blinked. Wet
his lips. He didn’t take his eyes
off Torbin as he fumbled in the counter’s cavity.
He righted himself unsteadily, never looking away.
Never blinking. He tossed a
battered Esquire on the countertop. Well,
how about that. My only interview
in five years.
56,” Frederick stammered, his voice cracking.
The magazine lay open in front of Torbin.
He stared at himself. Top-hat.
Dapper tuxedo. Clean-shaven. What a con-job that
was. No wonder Freddo never
recognized me…but he knows it
now. Frederick’s Adam’s
apple bobbed skittishly.
Kramer Jacobs. You—you won a
Pulitzer. A Pulitzer.
I mean, I thought—you. I
didn’t know that you—God. This is
amazing. You’re amazing. Kramer
lips split in a reverent grin. Utterly
devoid of vindictiveness.
was right. They really don’t
But thanks anyway, Freddo.
I’m telling you, man—like, Valley
of the Shadow of Death and all your other stuff…I just can’t believe
it—and that chick? She said she’d
sleep with you, dude! Wow.
they don’t get it, do they? But
coming from Frederick, it’s flattering. Yeah, I’d have to say it’s flattering. Just this once. Possibly—being a
gigolo just this one night isn’t so bad.
slid slowly off the barstool. Reached
under the seat and hoisted his jacket into his arms.
Put it on.
Not Kramer Jacobs.”
Kramer Jacobs. Torbin.
Torbin Zepto. But you can
call me Zebco.”
eyebrows inched up his forehead. He
nodded. Just barely. Spoke. Just
quiet protest was absorbed into the hanging smoke.
were right, Freddo.”
am a gigolo. You said I was a
gigolo. And I am.”
a gigolo…but just for tonight.”
doesn’t get it. But somehow,
that’s OK…maybe Kramer Jacobs isn’t so mediocre after all…but I’m
still glad I’m not him.
turned and walked out.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
'Texas native K. Wilson James was born in 1983. She is a journalism major
at the University of Missouri-Columbia, where she ponders ethical media and
entertains herself with other bored locals. As the cornerstone of her
undergraduate work, she plans to enter the political press arena through