I gaped at him. “Oh, but —”
“If the owner does come back for it—Angelina Jolie was here about six weeks ago, it’ll be hers, right? Or maybe Catherine Zeta-Jones, she was here the week before that.” And he grinned his grin again. “If she comes back for it, I know where you live, don’t I? Take it.”
I didn’t wear bracelets and I didn’t wear burgundy velvet and I hadn’t worn lace in twenty years and then only when semi-artfully torn first, but my hand was itching to snatch it and stuff it back in my pocket. I tried to do this casually, like it was no big deal. “Well—thanks.”
“If you’d found something the pawn shop in Bittern Marsh would take I might’ve tried,” said Jan. “But Hector runs more toward your grandfather’s medals and your great-grandfather’s watch. This’d just freak him out. Okay, you’re done. We already got your money. Safe journey.”
“I’m driving Merry, you know,” I said.
“Sure. It’s the other people on the road have to worry. You may have to help Gus lift his lawnmower in the back is all. I told Mike he should have thrown in a ramp in the purchase price.”
Small town life, I thought. “Okay,” I said.
“Come back and see Serena,” he said. “Especially when she’s mad at me.”
“Does it happen often?” I said cautiously, torn between lurid curiosity and wondering if the slight reformed-bar-brawler aura might suddenly manifest in his tearing my ass off and handing it back to me.
“Often enough,” he said. “If I had any sense I’d give her the business and make her pay me a salary. I’m not a bad plumber and I’m good at nailing things together before they fall over and kill somebody. But I’ve had no sense over sixty years, it’s late to start now.” He fixed me with a look.
Uh oh. This was maybe when the ass-tearing began.
“You write books.”
If he had a novel in his bottom drawer that he wanted me to read I was going to burst into tears. I’d almost rather he punched me. Last time I got punched by a disgruntled would-be writer he was extremely drunk and would have been relatively easy to dodge if it hadn’t been for malignly-placed furniture. Con security arrived pretty soon and escorted him off the premises. However the photo that made the front page of EWBAG because some scum-sucking loser had his phone out at the wrong minute showed me falling over a chair as I dove out of Snidely Whiplash’s way. I needed six stitches in my chin. But there had been a novel in a bottom drawer involved. Usually people take ‘no’ pretty well. Occasionally you get one who tells you you are a selfish close-minded cow, but physical violence is unusual. EWBAG—Einstein was Wrong But in a Good Way, EWWBIAGW, usually known as and pronounced Ewbag—for anyone not plugged into the science fiction and fantasy world, used to be the weekly trade paper for all things SF&F. It’s now a web site slightly larger than God. Unfortunately there is an archive of all the old paper issues.
Jan probably was motel security and he looked sober. Nothing more dangerous than a sober reformed bar brawler. “Er. Yes,” I said reluctantly. “But—strictly genre. Fantasy. Swords and sorcery. Vampires.” Your bildungsroman about a sensitive young man growing up in a small lakeside town and losing his virginity to an evil soul-swallowing celestial-eyed goldfish goddess . . . no, no, wait. Stop at the sensitive young man growing up in a small lakeside town. A bildungsroman about a sensitive young man would be wasted on me. If there’s an evil soul-swallowing celestial-eyed goldfish goddess I might be interested.
“You put real people in your books?”
I blinked. Okay, this was also in the top ten, with ‘will you read my novel’ and ‘where do you get your ideas’ but I hadn’t been expecting it. I thought of JoJo and Mr Love-Me. “No. Not recognisably anyway.” I scowled. “I’m considering putting my ex-husband in one though. With a stake through his heart.”
The look eased. He reverted to a good, if possibly slightly risky, person to have a beer with. I made a mental note that if this ever happened to me, not to ask him any more leading questions.
“When I wasn’t much more than Gus’ age we had a writer fella move up here from the big city. Said he wanted peace and quiet though you’d never guess it since he spent all his time slouching around downtown, except when he was playing poker in the back room at the Hydrant. He was here a little over a year. Then someone figured out that he was sleeping with three of the wives of his poker buddies and he left in kind of a hurry. When his next book come out, a lot of people saw themselves and they weren’t real happy. He wasn’t Dan Brown so no one else cared. But we cared.”
“You?” I said before I could stop myself—and checked hastily for malignly-placed furniture.
“Yeah. I was the mama’s boy who wouldn’t play poker because I was underage. That wasn’t why. Why was because I’ve always sucked at poker.”
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