“In hindsight,” he said, “I probably shouldn’t have started writing this one. Nor should I have taken the advance. But, you know, who can resist an offer of so much money for doing something that should be so easy-peasy.”
She looked at him with that determinedly unpatronising look she reserves for her blocked authors. “Ah, but it’s a great thriller and it’s right for you and you’re right for it. I’ve not come across a story and author so well matched before. A beautiful marriage made in wherever beautiful marriages are made. It’ll be another best-seller for you. Anyhow, Altberg and Altberg can wait. They’re patient. They understand writers. And that sort of money is peanuts to them. They know you’ll get there eventually.”
“Bur it’s not working,” he said. “Brick Hanson is meant to have met the new girl by now, but he is still thinking about Jessy and how he can minimize the alimony he’ll have to pay. Or does he bump her off? That’s a problem – here we have an honest tough-guy private eye in his seventh outing in public fronting up a good-conquers-evil formulaic thriller actively thinking about murdering his soon-to-be-ex. He’s out of control. I’ve tried moving the story along but my fingers aren’t listening.”
Marjorie raised her eyebrows, “The new girl – she has no name? I thought it was going to be Zelda.”
”Yeah, yeah, Zelda. That’s her. She’ll be alright. She’s happy in her own skin. She’ll stay in character. She’s stable. Brassy but bright. Tough but tender. Especially where PIs are concerned. I’m more worried about Brick. Two nights ago I wake up at four in the morning, that’s four in the morning, still dark, and I have in my head a scenario where he throws his Colt Detective Special into the canal, tears up his license to practice, and goes all monastic. Sober and celibate and all that sort of thing. No jumping on Jessy or zinging Zelda. A Brick Hanson story sans sex. It can’t be allowed to happen.”
“You spent five years in a catholic boarding school, I seem to recall?”
“Yeah, yeah, but not relevant. My shrink has already sorted me out on that score. Relieved my guilt for past sins and given me the green light for current and future transgressions. You won’t find me becoming a monk. It’s Brick that’s the problem. He hasn’t had a drink for five pages now. That’s not happened before. He’s becoming unreliable. And unbeknownst to me, I find on page 26 that he’s applied to join Friends of the Earth. For heaven’s sake, that can’t go in the book. I’ll be a laughing stock. So now I have to start lying to my readers. Suddenly all is fiction. Once you start doing that, there’s no turning back. And it’s downhill all the way.”
She took another sip from her glass, “I’m sure you’ll find he won’t let you down. At least he isn’t thinking of becoming a vegetarian. He’ll get the girl and solve the case – with the help of his case of single malt.”
He looked around Marjory’s office. Framed book covers including his own six on every wall. A desk stacked high with manuscripts, magazines and trade papers. She was one of the best. An industry leader. She was a presence at every publishing event and every book fair. She knew exactly what any publisher needed at any point in time and she made sure that she was the person to supply it. And if there ever was an agent who could unblock a gunged-up writer, then it’s she. And so, of course, he listened.
“I have,” she continued, “A friend at Friends of the Earth. A friendly Friend, so to speak. I’ll have a word. I’ll make sure Brick’s application is, ahem, lost. That should help. Would you like me to do that?”
Some of the gloom left his eyes. “Worth a try. As long as Brick doesn’t find out. If he realizes it’s us, he’ll go ape-shit. It’ll be goodbye to a decent night’s sleep for me for evermore.”
“Keep him busy, then. Get Zelda to jump forward a few pages, sort out the divorce stuff and keep him away from any priests. Take control. Be a writer. What do you think?”
He sat up straight. “He’s not real, you know. He’s just a character in a book. Someone I made up. He has to do what I say he must do. He has no free will. I call the shots. I’m the organ grinder not him. He has to learn that. He has to know who’s boss. I wear the trousers here. I’ll show him.”
“Ah yes. Just a character in a book,” Marjory murmured quietly to herself. “Just a character. And totally subservient to the writer. As if that were ever the case.”
And she poured two more generous shots of her second best Glenlivet, one for each of them – unblocking writers was one of her second best favourite pastimes.
“So then. Here’s to Brick Hanson,” she toasted. “May he be forever tough.”
“To Brick Hanson,” he agreed.
“And no more “In hindsights’?”
“No more ‘In hindsights’.”