There was the book. There was the display. There were the crowds lined up four hours ahead of time. There was just one thing wrong.*
“WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?” I whirled around and flung my arm at the mammoth sign hanging in the window display. I was being a little overdramatic, I must say, but I wasn’t going to admit that. “HOW IN THE WORLD DID SOMETHING LIKE THIS HAPPEN?”
“Tom, calm down. I don’t know—“
“Calm down? You don’t know?” I figured spitting his words back at him might spark some sort of reaction, but no. Henry just stared at me like I mad. And I supposed I was mad, more so than simply anger, but also mental instability. I felt like the ground was rushing towards me at a hundred miles an hour so I sat down on the tile floor.
I noticed employees whispering behind manicured nails, the manager with his mouth agape, unable to form words with his tongue. Henry looked down at me like I was a cranky child. And I supposed I was. But godammit I deserved this!
Sure, I thought this might happen. I mean, it was Henry. The witty novelist, the rising star, the face of Orshamsion, our hometown. We might have started out as writing partners, but over the years he somehow slipped into a whole other league and left me behind.
I had my own skill, my own niche. Sure, this niche was writing space murder mysteries, but I was a hit at Comic Con! At least, at my booth near the bathrooms. Okay, two of the people that stopped to talk to me thought I was JJ Abrams. I need new glasses.
But we were always civil. We met once a week- unless Henry was traveling. We had a pact to write at least seven hundred words a day and email our work to each other every few days. We both enjoyed each other’s writing. He had his Jason Bourne-ish stories and I had my Martian detectives. Then, this opportunity came along.
“Tom, they want a space adventure.” His agent had told him about a call she received from the mega publishing company that sold Tom’s thrillers. “They are looking at trying the sci-fi market. With the popularity of Comic Con and the resurgence of vampires and Star Trek and aliens, they say that this will be a huge hit. And they need both of us.”
At the time, I thought-
Actually, no, I didn’t think anything at the time. I yelled at Tom, “Say yes, say yes, say yes you fool, say YES!”
Seven months later, we had a manuscript. Sure, it wasn’t really how I liked to go about my work. The first book in my Solar Sherlock series had taken me three years to complete. But Tom worked rapidly. “My audience isn’t as demanding as yours. They don’t care about the details as much as the action.” Of course, when he said “demanding” I thought “intelligent” and when he said “action” I thought “explosions.” But still, I didn’t say anything.
Another five months, after a little editing and stacks of paperwork, the book was printed. A year, to the day, after I got Tom’s call we had the book release party.
And there it was. All of my work, my sacrifice, my bowing to the brilliant Tom Isles, this is what I receive? I stared vapidly at the signs spread across the store:
BOOKTOWN IS PROUD TO WELCOME
THE BRILLIANT AUTHORS OF
A DAY ABOARD THE RISING DAWN
and Henry Mueller
And so I sat there, like a whiny child on a tile floor. A cold tile floor. Really cold. I reached under my seat and touc— great. I had sat in a puddle of something. Water, I hoped. And so, with a stain on my butt and egg on my face, I got up, huffed, and walked to the bathroom.
I spent two minutes trying to dry my pants by placing my rear underneath the hand blowers. But then an old man walked inside and gave me a look of disgust. I moved fluidly to a stall and locked the door.
I spent an hour and two minutes sitting on the toilet (with the lid still on). And I washed myself with my thoughts. Tom had published before me. Tom was reviewed before me. Tom made more money than me, was still married, and didn’t have a slowly-but-surely growing bald spot. He had it. And I had my alien mysteries. All because my mom encouraged me to write that Star Trek fanfic when I was thirteen.
“Thanks Mom,” I muttered. I heard a raspy cough, a flush, and the squeaky door open in the stall next to me. Shaking my head, I turned and read the Sharpie messages on the stall walls. I was surprised. Booktown was a pretty immaculate place. The stalls were made of marble slabs. There was usually a guy at the sink with his menagerie of colognes, but fortunately he had the day off or was sick or something. I’d have hated to know that I had to share my bathroom of shame with a guy in a vest.
“CALL 679-3444 FOR A GOOD TIME”
“BARACK OBAMA IS MY PRESIDENT”
“I HATE MY
“THE NEW YORKER IS TOILET PAPER”
I laughed at the literary insult penned in silver Sharpie. It gave me a weird pleasure.
Suddenly my phone started buzzing. I reached into my pocket, guessing it was Tom at the book signing table. He must have been so busy that he forgot that I had simply gone to the bathroom. It was either him or my ex-wife calling about the cat. Either way, I didn’t feel much like talking.
As soon as I realized I had one in my pocket, I started laughing. I didn’t care what old guy or cologne peddler or Booktown manager heard me. I didn’t care if Tom Big Shot Isles could hear me, or any of his dozy and indolent readers, or the Booktown employees who had forgotten to order any of my books for the event. I laughed like the maniacal child I was, and I pulled out the Sharpie and started writing:
“Tom Isles Is A…”
*Story written in Fall 2010