Columbus Day Killer
Morty leaned back in his chair and took a sip of his water. “Chuck, I’m worried about the book.”
Morty and Chuck were sitting at a window table in their favorite restaurant, an upscale diner on Portland’s tree-lined park blocks. It was a warm fall day, and across the street people played basketball while office workers sat on nearby benches, their eyes closed as they soaked up what they feared might be the last of the year’s sunshine.
Chuck bit into his reuben, and dabbed his lips with his napkin. “You know Morty, I only eat this sandwich when I’m with you.”
Morty frowned. Chuck smiled and said, “Sheesh, don’t worry Morty, you’re a great agent. You did everything you could, now it’s up to the people.”
“Chuck, I’m serious. The cover’s too dark, the title’s too cutesy, and we should’ve never let Susan Rice edit it. She doesn’t respect horror. I should’ve been in there fighting for you, but I thought Random House knew what they were doing.”
Chuck took a sip of his beer, and held his sandwich in the air between them. He said, “I think this sandwich says it all, like it’s is our little secret. I feel like we’re in New York, maybe in 1925, at a swanky downtown restaurant with high-backed booths and photos of local sports legends on the walls. It’s early fall, and the street is buzzing with life after a quiet summer. I’m slowly working on my sandwich, my whiskey and a cigar, as we swap stories about the party last night. You’re eating onion soup and sipping your club soda. I’m laughing a lot and people nearby keep leaning in to hear our amazing tales. I take another puff from my cigar, and spot my bookie sitting in the corner. I remember that I lost big last night, and I’m going to have to come up with some cash fast, or risk losing my pinky. But I’m not worried; I just look him in the eyes and smile as I blow a smoke ring. He smiles back, then starts reading the sports page. Then, our cute waitress asks me for my autograph and tells me I’m her favorite, and slips me her phone number on a napkin. It doesn’t matter that I could be her father; I’m famous and handsome in a Carey Grant kind of way. You see Morty, it always works out for me.”
“Gee, thanks, but I’m worried about both of us.” Morty checked to make sure the top was tight on the saltshaker, then added a few dashes to his onion soup. Morty was nearly bald, but had a tasteful comb-over and bushy red sideburns that dominated his profile. He was in his late forties, not unattractive, and fit from playing racquetball and tennis with clients. He had a thick moustache and thin lips, and was wearing a solid blue shirt and yellow tie covered dancing bears.
Morty continued, “It may be only another book to you, but my honor is at stake. Reviews of Columbus Day Killer aren’t so hot, nothing like Slicing Susan or Susan Slices Back. None of the big writers had anything nice to say so we we’re going with some small-press editors and reviewers for the jacket blurbs.” Morty looked up from his soup to gauge Chuck’s reaction, but Chuck was humming as he stared out the window at the bikini car wash down the street.
Morty shook his head, and continued, “Are you even listening to me? And by the way Chuck, you’re too bald, too burly, and your leather jacket is too black for the Carey Grant thing. I know I told you to shave your head for the Horror Now interview, but that’s another mistake of mine. Your head just isn’t the right shape. And while I’m on the topic, why can’t the girl be flirting with both of us in your fantasy, or maybe a girl for each of us?”
Morty grabbed some bread and dipped it in his soup. He got a little on his sleeve, and sucked it off. “So anyway, Mr. Not Worried About Anything, I was in the shower and I had a an idea. I can’t do anything about the reviews, so I came up with this idea and pitched it to Random House. You know I’d do anything for you, right?”
“Good. So a week or so after the release, which, by the way, will still be on Columbus Day, we’ll advertise a toll-free phone number for your fans to call you. The bookstores will have displays pushing the number, we’ll run ads in the big newspapers, and we’ll put some stickers on the front of the books. When they call they’ll listen to excerpts read by you, interviews, your appearance schedule, and so on. Then, as often as you can stand it, you answer and talk to one of your adoring fans. In line at the theatre? Answer the phone and sell a few books. Bored at the DMV? The same. We record all the calls and put them on your website. It’s like a radio talk show call-in, but you can do it anywhere, and your biggest fans get direct access to you. You can be at a bar, at the beach, at dinner with friends or getting a massage with a happy ending. We can make stuff up so you seem cool. You can pretend you’re watching an autopsy, shaving skunks for kicks, kicking it with Stephen King, whatever. We’ll do it for the first few weeks, while your book is in its initial release.”
“I don’t know Morty, it sounds cheesy. Who would want to talk to me?”
As expected, sales were initially slow the first week after the release, but 800-CAL-CHUK was launched and Morty’s honor was restored. Chuck was in line at the theatre on the fourth night of the promotion, with his date and a gender-ambiguous couple. It was an unusually cool evening for mid October, and Chuck was wearing a red wool sweater, black cords and green combat boots.
His cell phone rang, playing a few unmistakable notes from the shower scene in Psycho. He smiled and pointed at it, then gave his companions a thumbs-up. “Fifteenth one today.”
He turned away to talk. “Hello, this is Chuck. Yeah, it’s really Chuck Carter. Yes, you’ve reached me. Yep, the real me. Well, I can’t prove that it’s me. I mean you did call the Chuck Carter line, right? And I answered. OK, so it’s me. No, I’m not in India. Do I sound like I’m in India? Look, it’s me. What can I do for you? Oh, you’re joking, good I was getting worried there. What was that? You said Lola? That’s a nice name. Well, it’s nice to talk to you too, Lola. What can I do for you? Come up with a really scary story right now, about spanking and chickens? What? Scary stories turn you on? Two chickens? I don’t write about chickens, chickens are funny and I’m all about the blood and guts. Well, unless they’re dead or possessed zombie chickens I just don’t use them much in my stuff. What’s that? Well, you’re right there, Lola. There was some chicken blood in Slicing Susan. Yeah, you’re right about that too, there were chicken feathers at the end of Susan Slices Back. You liked that too, cool. I like it too, that’s why I wrote it. It sounds like you know my work well. Well thank you. You have a sexy voice too. What am I wearing?”
He looked at his date, smiled, and twirled his index finger in a circle around his ear and mouthed, “Crazy.”
He walked a few steps further out of line. “I’m wearing a black leather trench coat, with nothing underneath.” He gulped, and smiled at a person walking by. “You’ve never seen a picture of me? What do you think I look like? Six two, gray at the temples, strong shoulders and a prominent chin with full lips and a long tongue? That’s pretty damn close, Lola. And what do you look like? That sounds nice.” He put his free hand in his pants pocket, then continued, “Yeah, yeah…wait a minute, this isn’t a sex line, I’m supposed to be answering questions about my books, not my leather underwear.” He smiled back at his girlfriend. She smiled, feigned a yawn and tapped her watch.
Chuck continued, “So, what are you wearing? Just that? I don’t think oil counts as clothing.”
The next day, Morty and Chuck met for lunch at their usual restaurant.
“Shit Morty, I’m sorry, I just got carried away. I kind of forgot that it was automatically recorded. Did the whole thing go up on the website?”
“Yeah, I told you we had it setup so that anything recorded at night would just go straight up to your site. We figured we’d edit it the next morning. I thought we’d be editing out the ‘ums’ and ‘aws’ and occasional expletives, not the ‘Oh my god I’m so hot I can’t stand it send me a naked picture right now.’ The minute the recording got up there your fans replicated it all over the web. Why did you ask for a picture? We never discussed pictures. Anyway, the good news is that we outsourced the nighttime editing of the calls to India. We told them to take out any really personal information like phone numbers, last names or address, so none of that got on the web. But all the juicy details, they’re on there. Why did you ask her if she likes mangos? Did she really send you a picture?”
Morty moved in a little closer. “What did she look like? She’s not a minor, is she?”
He handed Morty the phone. “Here, check it out. She’s really hot for her age. Definitely not a minor, she kind of looks like your sister.”
“Wow!” Morty put the phone against his chest. “I didn’t know you could send such good photos with cell phones.” He looked around the coffee shop, but no one was looking at them. He pulled it away from his chest and looked at it again. He rotated it at several angles, then held it upside down. He took a deep breath. “You haven’t shown that to anyone, have you?”
“No, not yet. You look mortified. It’s just a picture of a naked woman. A naked woman who wants me, I might add. And look at the beach ball. God, what I wouldn’t give to make that thing deflate.”
Morty laughed. “Oh well, the good news is that we can use this to our advantage. All the major networks will be covering it. I called The Daily Show, Letterman and CNN. I’m just waiting to hear back so we can give our side of the story. Luckily, you don’t have a schoolboy persona we need to protect. Let me see that again…where is her hand? Oh God, that is hot.”
Chuck grabbed the phone. Morty said, “So are you going to meet her?”
Chuck replied, “No way, she could be a freak.”
“Chuck, you’re a freak. You write novels about zombie kindergartners and sleep in mausoleums for fun.”
“Good point. Should I get a reuben today?”
“Eat whatever you want, just don’t have phone sex anymore unless I tell you to.”
“No problem Morty, you’re the boss.”
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED